Softball: Wildcats remain confident before tough matchup against in-state rival Illinois


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Morgan Nelson rounds third base. The freshman was among Northwestern’s notables in the Iowa series, hitting a home run in the final contest.

Melissa Haniff, Reporter


As Northwestern prepares for a road doubleheader against Illinois, the team’s goal is simple — bring home two more wins.

The Wildcats (14-20, 5-4 Big Ten) are coming off a series sweep, in which they beat Iowa three times in two days. On Wednesday, NU will face Illinois (23-15, 3-6), a team looking to rebound after dropping three games to No. 19 Minnesota.

Although the Fighting Illini may be on a losing streak, the Cats recognize they will be facing a formidable opponent in Champaign.

“Illinois is a well-coached team, and it’s a fun game for in-state purposes,” senior rightfielder Fran Strub said. “This game will mean a little more to us, and I think continuing to play Northwestern softball and playing our way will be the key to victory.”

Strub, batting a team-high of .600, is also slugging 1.200 in conference play. Her hitting streak started against No. 2 Michigan — when she doubled twice — and continued against Minnesota, when she hit a walk-off homer to lift the Cats to a 10-2 victory.

The rightfielder’s confidence at the plate was again evident against Iowa, when she slammed another 2-run homer Friday.

“I think that in watching video and talking with the coaches, I’ve had a really good plan at the plate for all the different pitchers we’ve faced,” Strub said.

Along with Strub, freshman third baseman Morgan Nelson, senior shortstop Andrea Filler and senior pitcher Amy Letourneau led the Cats’ offense throughout the series against Iowa. Although Letourneau accounted for three dingers and 11 RBIs over the weekend, NU’s offense is far from one-dimensional.

Coach Kate Drohan said the team’s chemistry and ability to count on each other to make plays often contribute to its success.

“We have a lot of confidence in each other and we have great production throughout our entire lineup,” Drohan said. “When we’re able to play the game relaxed because of that confidence, that’s when good things happen.”

However, even with a powerful offense, the Cats will have to play tough defense Wednesday if they want to pull out another sweep against a conference opponent. Illinois enters the doubleheader with nine batters hitting over .300 and eight batters hitting RBIs in the double-digits.

Led by sophomore Annie Fleming, who is batting .351 over 38 appearances, and junior Nicole Evans, who has brought in 35 RBIs in 38 games, the Fighting Illini offense is a force to be reckoned with.

Drohan emphasized that the best way to stop Illinois is simple — keep the ball in the park.

“It’s our number one goal and we’ve allowed too many runs that way,” Drohan said. “We have to play one pitch at a time like we’ve been talking about, and we really need to play some good defense.”

The Cats, currently fifth in the Big Ten, will look to use tomorrow’s matchups to move up in the conference standings. Both Drohan and Strub said they believe two wins are indeed possible as long as the team remains confident and consistent on the diamond.

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