Softball: Wildcats top local rival Loyola, prepare for daunting weekend

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Softball: Wildcats top local rival Loyola, prepare for daunting weekend

Marissa Panko runs the bases. The junior infielder and the Wildcats took down local rival Loyola on Wednesday.

Marissa Panko runs the bases. The junior infielder and the Wildcats took down local rival Loyola on Wednesday.

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Marissa Panko runs the bases. The junior infielder and the Wildcats took down local rival Loyola on Wednesday.

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Marissa Panko runs the bases. The junior infielder and the Wildcats took down local rival Loyola on Wednesday.

Cole Paxton, Sports Editor

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Northwestern picked up one road win this week. Getting more will be a challenge.

The Wildcats (16-20, 3-6 Big Ten) pushed past Loyola (18-18) on Wednesday, handling the host Ramblers 6-3 in a game that sets up arguably NU’s toughest weekend of the season — a three-game set at No. 6 Minnesota (35-3, 8-1).

Still, the Cats looked impressive at their local foe. NU scored in each of the first two innings, then answered once Loyola tied the game, regaining its lead in the fourth and holding the Ramblers scoreless over the final 5 frames.

“I liked our attitude. I liked our approach,” coach Kate Drohan said. “The team was ready to play. … I really liked the way the team responded.”

Freshman pitcher Morgan Newport played a major role in that response. She threw a complete game, tallying seven strikeouts and issuing no walks. It was the first complete game win of Newport’s career.

She was effective despite scattering six hits, locking down after Jamie O’Brien’s second inning home run tied the game at 3. She held nine straight batters hitless over one stretch in the middle frames.

“It took me a little while to settle in, but my defense had my back the entire time,” Newport said. “That made me feel really good, and I felt really confident in the circle because of it.”

Senior first baseman Alcy Bush was the Cats’ other major catalyst. Hitting ninth, she recorded a pair of RBI doubles, including the go-ahead hit in the top of the fourth.

It was a sharp uptick in performance from Bush’s season’s efforts; she entered Wednesday hitting only .119 on the season. She had gone seven games without a hit, and her doubles against Loyola were Bush’s first of the year.

“It’s outstanding,” Drohan said of the senior’s production. “It’s the key really to our offense right now, to have different people step up. … Everybody needs to understand that it can be anybody on any given day.”

Minnesota, however, presents a daunting challenge. The Golden Gophers have lost just one game against an unranked team all season; four of their eight wins against Big Ten teams so far have been truncated due to the run rule.

Much of that success is due to pitcher Sara Groenewegen. The senior ace has a 17-2 record and a miniscule 0.70 ERA, recording 11 shutouts so far this season and allowing opponents to hit just .166.

“Minnesota’s a great team,” Newport said. “We know that going in; we’re going to have to make the plays that we’ve been making, make great defensive plays.”

NU played a rigorous non-conference schedule, which included six games against top-10 opponents and 11 contests against ranked opponents. Drohan said Wednesday that this year’s schedule has helped the Cats prepare for the Minnesota series.

Still, NU opened Big Ten play with just one win in series against ranked foes Wisconsin and Michigan. For that to change, Drohan said, the Cats will need to play error-free softball.

“The key to this weekend is not giving them anything with errors or walks, things like that,” she said. “That’s what’s going to be the difference, and that’s within our control.”

Email: colepaxton2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @ckpaxton

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