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Softball: Northwestern closes split weekend with pair of wins

Fathma Rahman, Web Editor

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Softball


For the first time this season, the Wildcats are coming home with momentum.

Northwestern (3-10) closed out the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic with an 11-2 win over North Carolina State (3-12) and a 3-2 victory against Houston (7-11). The Cats fell to No. 11 Georgia (14-3) and No. 8 Washington (11-2) earlier in the weekend after losing eight straight entering the stretch.

“As we’ve played more and more, our instincts on the field have gotten … sharper,” senior outfielder Anna Petersen said. “We’ve become much less timid both offensively and defensively.”

The Cats faced a challenging stretch to start the season — eight of their first 13 games came against ranked opponents. And though it struggled to find success, the team competed hard in several games, losing by just a run to No. 1 Florida State in its first game of the ACC-B1G Challenge and taking then-No. 21 Baylor into extra innings at the Hillenbrand Invitational.

It wasn’t until this weekend, though, that NU’s efforts translated to wins.

The team worked to improve its consistency and aggression on the field since the season’s start three weekends ago, but saw its first real turning point of the season in the N.C. State game Saturday, which it won in five innings.

“I think we’re starting to gel in particular with our speed game,” coach Kate Drohan said. “We’ve been using a lot of different lineups the first 13 games of the year and in the last two wins, the team has learned to control momentum offensively, and we’ve come up with some big timely hits.”

The Cats thrived offensively against the Wolfpack, scoring six runs in the first inning thanks to a career-first grand slam from Petersen. Junior outfielder Sabrina Rabin, senior outfielder Krista Williams and sophomore infielder Morgan Nelson also contributed with two hits apiece, scoring a combined 4 runs.

Sophomore pitcher Kenzie Ellis tossed a season-best 10 strikeouts and allowed just one run against Houston in the Cats’ third win of the season.

“Everybody was doing their part,” Ellis said. “Whether that was putting out a bunt or getting a base hit or Anna Petersen coming up with a huge grand slam, it was fun to see everyone have a part in that win.”

However, NU didn’t start the weekend as strong as it closed. Though the Cats held the Bulldogs scoreless through four innings, a home run in the fifth and an RBI in the sixth resulted in a 2-0 defeat.

NU put up a tougher fight against Washington, but couldn’t catch up after Washington’s four runs in the bottom of the fifth lifted the score to 6-3. Ellis, freshman Morgan Newport and sophomore Kaley Winegarner totaled six walks over the course of the game.

“The difference is in Georgia we didn’t get the timely hit,” Drohan said. “And as we went through the weekend, we really worked on staying in the process and trusting our work that we’ve done and getting excited about the next opportunity — and that opportunity came in a big way against N.C. State.”

Starting Friday, the Cats will play five games in three days, including a trio against ranked opponents: No. 23 California, No. 3 Florida and No. 8 Washington. NU also plays South Carolina and Fresno State over the weekend.

Ahead of the packed stretch, Petersen said the team must maintain its aggressive mindset to continue its groove. And with momentum on its side, the Cats could be on the brink of an early-season turnaround.

“I don’t necessarily see that game as a turning point for any individual,” Petersen said. “But I think definitely for our team, it was a nice way to come back from a string of losses.”

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