Northwestern needed final inning rallies in both of its contests against IUPUI on Saturday, and the late surge did wonders for team morale.
“How we won in the doubleheader, coming from behind in both, that gives me an awful lot of confidence in our team,” coach Kate Drohan said.
That attitude has permeated the entire dugout. The Wildcats (11-10) started the season 3-9 overall and 0-4 in games decided by 2 runs or less but have turned their luck around since with eight wins in their last nine contests, including four by 2 runs or less.
The turnaround has been partly a product of an easier schedule, and the slate of close losses spoke to a team that was unlucky rather than lacking skill, but a clear change has occurred.
The Cats were excited before the season about the team’s depth, but in the early proceedings, the offense, at times, fell too much on a couple of players, with junior infielder Andrea Filler the most prominent one.
Filler has remained the go-to hitter, with a .400 batting average and a team-leading 4 home runs and 24 RBIs, but the greater offensive versatility has been a boon.
“We’ve been mixing our lineup a lot this year,” Filler said. “It’s really interesting to see someone come in to a pinch hit situation and succeed. It’s nice to see that because those are the key hits that help us win.”
Up next comes Big Ten play, as the Cats commence their conference schedule with a three-game series against Penn State starting Saturday.
The Nittany Lions (13-12) sport a similar record but have been outscored by 14 runs this year, whereas the Cats hold a 16-run advantage over their opponents.
Penn State possesses a robust pitching staff, headed by sophomore Marlaina Laubach and her 1.90 ERA, but will have a tall task against a Cats squad that has produced nearly 9 runs per contest in their last four outings.
The bigger advantage for NU, though, is on the other side.
Penn State averages just 3.4 runs per contest, and the Cats have been on fire from the mound.
Junior Kristen Wood produced a no-hitter against Ball State last Sunday as part of a nine-inning hitless streak.
And the Cats have shut out three opponents since the start of their winning ways.
Wood attributed her recent success to an attentive approach to accuracy.
“I’ve been hitting the strike zone and getting ahead in the count,” Wood said. “I’ve definitely improved on that this year. I just need to improve the consistency of my pitches.”
Wood said she expects the Penn State hitters to take some pitches and look for walks, with Cats planning to counter that passive approach with early pounding of the strike zone.
NU has found its stride and doesn’t expect to let up any time soon.
“We’ve improved in all aspects of our game,” Drohan said. “I think we’ve grown as a team and the idea is to take that next step.”
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