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Softball: Northwestern prepares for final home games of season against Illinois

Sophomore+pitcher+Kenzie+Ellis+steps+up+to+the+plate.+The+sophomore+will+play+a+vital+role+from+both+the+batters+box+and+the+mound+against+Illinois.
Sophomore pitcher Kenzie Ellis steps up to the plate. The sophomore will play a vital role from both the batters box and the mound against Illinois.

Sophomore pitcher Kenzie Ellis steps up to the plate. The sophomore will play a vital role from both the batters box and the mound against Illinois.

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Sophomore pitcher Kenzie Ellis steps up to the plate. The sophomore will play a vital role from both the batters box and the mound against Illinois.

Ronald Kim, Reporter

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Softball


Northwestern will look to close out its home schedule in winning fashion Wednesday, when the team hosts Big Ten rival Illinois in a doubleheader.

The Wildcats (20-27, 7-12 Big Ten) enter the series with the Fighting Illini (35-13, 13-4 Big Ten) having been swept in a three-game series against Nebraska. However, in the team’s last home conference series, NU swept Purdue.

The Cats will look to seniors — first baseman Alcy Bush, outfielder Anna Petersen and outfielder Krista William — to lead the way against Illinois, just as the trio did in the team’s series against Purdue. Sophomore pitcher Kenzie Ellis will have to continue her impressive play from the squad’s last series against Nebraska, when Ellis went 5-for-10 at the plate with 2 RBIs, and threw 13 innings while giving up just four earned runs.

“I had a good weekend,” Ellis said. “I’ve been working really hard because I’ve been struggling, so coming out this weekend and seeing all that hard work come together was exciting for me.”

However, Petersen, who has been one of the Cats’ most impactful hitters this year, will need to break out of her recent slump. The former Big Ten Hitter of the Week is hitting .276 on the year and leads NU with six home runs. She is also second on the team in RBIs with 26.

Beating the Fighting Illini will be a challenge for the Cats, as Illinois currently sits at third in the Big Ten standings. The doubleheader will serve as a solid, end-of-season test for NU in one of the team’s last series before the 2017 Big Ten Tournament in mid-May.

In addition to production from its bats, NU will look to its pitching staff to stifle the Fighting Illini’s bats and keep the Cats in each of the two games. Coach Kate Drohan said a focus will be containing Illinois’ offense by feeding the defense grounders and playing mistake-free ball.

“Illinois is a very dynamic team and they can score runs in a hurry,” Drohan said. “For our success, we need to limit the free bases and free passes we give them. … They’re gonna get their extra-base hits, but we need to come up with some really big outs in some key moments to limit their offense.”

The doubleheader begins at 2 p.m. at Sharon J. Drysdale Field and will be live on Big Ten Network.

Drohan said the team is ready and excited to close out its home schedule at home, especially with the Fighting Illini coming to town.

“We’re just excited to have a Big Ten game here in May — it’s been a while,” Drohan said. “The weather’s going to be nice and it’s our big rivalry game, so I don’t think we have to do anything else to get our team going.”

Cole Paxton contributed reporting.

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