Softball: Wildcats look to senior leadership as Big Ten Tournament approaches

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Daily file photo by Leeks Lim

Amy Letourneau takes a pitch. The senior has been an offensive force for the Wildcats with 14 home runs in 2016.

Melissa Haniff, Reporter


Softball


Having secured a first-round bye, Northwestern will head into the Big Ten Tournament in State College, Pennsylvania in excellent position.

As the No. 3 seeded Wildcats (25-25, 15-8 Big Ten) prepare to take either No. 6 seed Ohio State (32-17-1, 13-9-1) or No. 11 seed Rutgers (24-32, 8-15) on Friday, they will look to their core of seven seniors to provide composure and confidence heading into the matchup.

“We had our backs against the wall but our seven seniors have had tremendous leadership,” coach Kate Drohan said. “The big shift that I’ve seen is that we’ve really taken a lot of pride in our preparation. … We’ve really shown some great poise.”

Two of those seniors, shortstop Andrea Filler and pitcher Amy Letourneau, not only lead the team in several statistical categories but were named to the All-Big Ten first team Wednesday. Filler, who leads NU with 16 home runs, and Letourneau, who has contributed 14 home runs of her own, have stepped up to the plate this season as the team’s anchors.

Although the Cats’ competition has yet to be decided, Drohan noted that the uncertainty of their opponent is a blessing in disguise.

“Not knowing who we’re going to play is a real gift,” Drohan said. “We’re really working on shoring up, on the way we want to prepare so that we can play Northwestern softball.”

NU’s potential opponents have had mixed results within conference play, with Rutgers winning eight and Ohio State winning 13. Ohio State’s advantage, however, will be their winning record on neutral ground, having gone 10-5 before conference play began.

In comparison, the Cats went 8-13 during that time frame, much of which is accounted for by their difficult strength of schedule.

Drohan noted that although NU may have had a tricky journey getting to .500, the team’s ability to fight back and compete against some of the toughest teams in the country shows their unique approach to making adjustments on the field.

The sixth-seeded Buckeyes are led on the field by senior Cammi Prantl, currently hitting .405 with 42 RBI, and junior Alex Bayne, who leads the Buckeyes with 18 homers. On the mound, Ohio State is led by a five-pitcher rotation with a combined ERA of 3.36 and 289 strikeouts.

Rutgers, on the other hand, hit the .500 mark before Big Ten play began, but has struggled since. The Scarlet Knights have seven batters with double-digit RBI totals and are led at the plate by senior Stephanie Huang, who is currently batting .360.

The Cats will look to not only Filler and Letourneau, but sophomore centerfielder Sabrina Rabin and freshman third baseman Morgan Nelson, both named to the all-Big Ten second team, to provide an offensive boost against both teams.

On the other side of the ball, junior first baseman Alcy Bush and sophomore second baseman Brooke Marquez have been making stellar defensive plays throughout the season, a consistent tenet of NU’s defensive prowess.

At the end of the day, however, the Cats will look to its core group of seniors to provide the tenacity and stability needed to win the tournament.

“Our seniors have done a great job in the locker room,” Drohan said. “To see Filler take Morgan Nelson under her wing, Amy with Kenzie (Ellis) and Kaley (Winegarner), that’s how you build a program, young women investing in their own competition and building up the people around them as well.”

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