Softball: Wildcats head West to face some of nation’s best


Daily file photo by Sean Su

Sammy Nettling takes a hack. The sophomore catcher is hitting .417 through the team’s first nine games.

Melissa Haniff, Reporter


Hitting the road for the third weekend in a row, Northwestern will face three top-25 opponents along with two other perennially strong teams this weekend in Cathedral City, California. For the 12th time in 13 years, the Cats will play ball in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, one of the biggest tests of the season for the program.

NU (5-4) is coming off an up-and-down showing in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, where the team split four games over the three-day event. But despite those mixed results, coach Kate Drohan said she is confident the Cats can use this weekend to test the blue-collar grit they’ve been working on all offseason.

“It’s three weeks into the season so we get to really gauge where we are as a team and play under a lot of pressure and with a lot of crowd noise,” Drohan said. “Our fans are awesome and we have a great following of alums that come out as well.”

NU will face some of the toughest teams in the country, however, as it begins the weekend against the 11-1 Oregon State Beavers. Following that, the Cats will face New Mexico State, No. 8 Georgia, No. 20 Fresno State and No. 11 UCLA.

On Friday, the Cats will be tested by Oregon State freshman Meehra Nelson, who is currently undefeated with an ERA of 1.59 over ten appearances. Although the Beavers are currently unranked, six of their nine regular batters are currently hitting over .400, which will test the Cats defensively.

“We’re gonna continue to work, especially defending the short game,” Drohan said. “We have to continue to improve our mentality competitively and fight for every pitch.”

New Mexico State (10-2), currently ranked second in the nation in batting average, will also bring the heat. Freshman Kelsey Horton currently ranks third on the team with a .483 batting average and was voted Western Athletic Conference Hitter of the Week after scoring 6 runs and 7 RBIs this past weekend.

It’s clear to NU that the three ranked teams the Cats will face are a threat at the plate and on the mound. Freshman pitcher Kaley Winegarner, coming off her first win against Boston College last weekend, said the team must stay composed if they want to get big wins against such tough opponents.

“As the pitching staff as a whole, we’ll work on everything that we’ve normally been doing,” Winegarner said. “If you’re prepared you’ll be ready for the moment. We’ve been doing everything we’re supposed to, so when we do get to these teams, we’re prepared and we’ll just approach it like any other game.”

Georgia (9-0) is an offensive powerhouse, led by junior Sydni Emanuel currently batting .625 with 15 runs and senior Kaylee Puailoa who has batted in a team-high 19 RBIs. Fresno State, also undefeated through 10 games, will be a force to be reckoned with at the plate as well, with a team batting average of .326.

The defensive tests won’t end there, with the Cats having to face UCLA (7-3) in their last game of Sunday’s doubleheader. Although UCLA’s record may not look as impressive as the other four teams NU will face, Bruins senior Mysha Sataraka leads the team with a .524 batting average and 12 RBIs.

Both Drohan and Winegarner recognize that the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic will be one of the toughest trials the Cats will have to face before Big Ten competition begins in late March.

Sophomore centerfielder Sabrina Rabin, however, is looking to the series as a way to build momentum for the season.

“We really need to bring out our best because we can make a statement,” Rabin said. “Instead of focusing on what we haven’t done well so far, we’ll focus on knowing that we need to get better and keep growing this weekend.”

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