Softball: As season winds down, Wildcats head west for weekend series


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Sabrina Rabin slaps at the ball. The junior outfielder and the Wildcats head to Iowa this weekend to conclude the regular season.

Evan Augeri, Reporter


After sweeping a midweek doubleheader with Illinois, Northwestern will travel to Iowa this weekend for its final series of the regular season.

The Wildcats (22-27, 8-12 Big Ten) overcame early deficits in both games against the Fighting Illini by relying on strong defense from their infield and aggressive base running from the top of their batting order. Now, the Hawkeyes (18-29, 8-12) are NU’s final challenger before the Big Ten Tournament.

NU will need to stave off an Iowa pitching staff that ranks fifth in the Big Ten in ERA, but should have an easier time shutting down its offense, which is batting .216 this season — by far the worst in the conference.

However, the Hawkeyes have a 10-5 record at home this season, and coach Kate Drohan said her team should be wary of playing them on the road.

“Iowa’s tough, in Iowa,” Drohan said. “Right now, we need to play pitch-to-pitch and focus on who we are and what we’re good at, and that’s playing really strong defense.”

Such strong defense was on display against Illinois, when NU made only one error in the doubleheader’s 14 total innings.

The Cats also received complete games from their two starting pitchers, sophomore Kaley Winegarner and senior Nicole Bond, while their lineup’s first two batters continued their scorching hitting of late. Senior left fielder Krista Williams is hitting .515 in her last 10 games, and junior centerfielder Sabrina Rabin is carrying a 10-game hit streak into Iowa.

“(We’re) confident; we can feel it,” Winegarner said. “(On Wednesday) we came out so strong; it’s just going to be like a train coming into the weekend.”

NU’s conference ranking should benefit from a successful performance against Iowa. Currently, the team is in a tie with Iowa, Indiana and Penn State for eighth place in the Big Ten, and within one game of Michigan State and Wisconsin. With two or three wins against the Hawkeyes, the Cats may find themselves finishing in the top half of the Big Ten, despite toiling near its bottom for a good portion of the season.

The team cannot qualify for a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament with its current record, but by moving up the standings, NU could secure an opening round matchup against a lesser opponent.

The Cats have the best overall winning percentage of the three teams they are tied with, despite starting the season with what now ranks as the country’s No. 6 toughest nonconference schedule.

“Right now, it’s about how we’re playing, and it’s about developing confidence in our ability to execute in big moments when the game is on the line,” Drohan said. “That’s what’s going to help us in the tournament next week.”

Last season, NU finished third in the conference and advanced to the Big Ten Tournament’s semifinals, where the Cats lost to eventual champion Minnesota.

Williams said she expects the team to outperform its record this season against Iowa and in the conference tournament, especially with last season and the program’s recent history of success in mind.

“We’re capable of whatever we want,” Williams said, “in the sense that when we’re all in and playing Northwestern softball, we can do great things.”

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