Softball: Wildcats finally see wins during impressive weekend in California

Kevin Casey, Sports Editor

Persistent, and almost illogical, confidence has been the hallmark of Northwestern early this season, and the results finally reflected it this weekend.

The Wildcats, who entered Friday with a 4-9 record, blitzed through much of the Louisville Slugger Invite over the weekend, posting three consecutive victories before falling to No. 14 UCLA 8-2 on Sunday.

The slate of wins pushed the Cats within striking distance of .500 at 7-10. But more than that it provided relief for a squad that had consistently found ways to lose close.

“It’s definitely a good momentum shift for our team,” junior infielder Andrea Filler said. “But we knew it was coming too. It just took a little while for us to gel together.”

That gelling was wholly evident on the offensive side. Prior to the four-game affair in California, over-reliance on the home run ball had been a concern for the Cats, as swinging for the fences forced the team away from its identity as a grind-it-out, death-by-base-hits outfit.

In California, NU got the best of both worlds.

The Cats belted six home runs in the four games over the weekend, previously knocking out just 8 over the season’s first 13 contests. And it was the same story with hits, as NU’s season average of 6.1 per contest was surpassed by the 29 it produced in the four Louisville Slugger Invite contests.

This led to a massive rise in offensive production, averaging 7 runs per contest at the Louisville Slugger Invite versus a season average of 5 per game.

The long ball attracts eyes, but senior infielder Anna Edwards said that the focus on hitting the ball on the ground and making the opposing defense work played out well over the weekend.

And the Cats capitalized with more runners on base.

“We did a really good job with our base running,” Edwards said. “And we did a really good job in situations of moving runners, doing the little things right.”

NU got things rolling from the start with a 9-0 win over Southern Utah on Friday, in a contest where senior outfielder Olivia Duehr shined to the tune of 5 RBIs.

Filler was the leader in game No. 2, as her 4-for-4 showing with 3 RBIs allowed NU to stay in the contest before junior infielder Brianna LeBeau’s single gave the Cats the go-ahead run and eventually the 5-4 win over Cal State Fullerton in eight innings.

Edwards had her breakout in a 12-7 win over Stanford, as the senior posted 4 RBIs on the day after compiling just two total in the first 15 games of the season.

The swift turnaround was the product of the confidence that the team has tried to incessantly cultivate.

“It was going up there, being aggressive and trusting my skill set,” Edwards said. “And just letting these last couple of weekends go.”

The loss to UCLA was a sour note to end a highly productive weekend and halted NU’s four-game winning streak dating back to last Sunday’s victory against South Carolina. And with the Bruins’ 6-run second, there was proof that NU’s big innings woes are not completely off the table.

But for a team whose morale had to be taking some dings while the losses piled up, the immersion back into the winners’ circle came at a very good time.

Some issues persist, yet NU appears to be headed on the right track. As the schedule heats up, the added value of a string of victories could do wonders for the Cats.

“You get in a little bit of a rut losing a couple of games in a row, and this weekend gives us a breath of fresh air,” Filler said. “We’re excited to take on those Big Ten teams as we near conference play.”

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