Softball: Northwestern wins four of five at Kajikawa Classic


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Marissa Panko takes off for a base. The senior infielder and the Wildcats went 4-1 at the Kajikawa Classic last weekend.

Andrew Golden, Reporter


After dropping its season opener in Tempe, Arizona on Friday, Northwestern won its next four games to finish 4-1 at the Kajikawa Classic. It’s the Wildcats’ best start to a season since 2014, when they opened 4-1 en route to a 35-18 season and an appearance in the NCAA Regional Championship game.

NU (4-1) opened the tournament with a 4-1 loss to No. 7 Arizona (4-1), managing just one run on three hits, before bouncing back with a 7-6 win in extra innings over San Diego State. The Cats won their next three games easily, outscoring Boise State, Indiana and South Dakota by a combined score of 29-9.

NU’s recipe for success this weekend was big innings. The offense found a rhythm with 5-run outbursts in the first innings against San Diego State and South Dakota and in the sixth against Indiana.

The Cats’ offense relied on its veteran core to help propel them this weekend. Junior infielder Lily Novak stood out at the plate, batting .500 while hitting two doubles and driving in 7 runs. She said that the offensive explosion was a result of building on each other’s confidence at the start of each inning.

“We just said that we were going to be really aggressive,” Novak said. “We were able to respond in the first inning in that (San Diego State) game, and we kept that going in all of our games and came out really strong in every game.”

Senior shortstop Marissa Panko and senior centerfielder Sabrina Rabin tied for the team lead with 7 runs scored. Rabin has now scored 158 total runs in her career and surpassed Marisa Bast over the weekend to become third on the Cats’ all-time runs scored list.

A couple of first-year players were key contributors to the team as well. Freshman second baseman Rachel Lewis batted .400 and was third on the team with five RBIs. Freshman pitcher Kenna Wilkeyhit a home run in the first at-bat of her collegiate career.

On the mound, Wilkey pitched a complete game in her second start against Indiana, giving up 1 run on four hits while striking out seven. After a rough outing against San Diego State, she said that her mindset was the difference between her two performances.

“I just changed the way I thought,” Wilkey said. “I wasn’t as nervous, and I just told myself, ‘You’ve been doing this your whole life, I mean, what’s different now?’”

Wilkey said that she is glad NU has a deep rotation of five pitchers because they can back her up if she’s having an off day.

While Wilkey was dealing, junior pitcher Kaley Winegarner struggled. After posting a team-low 2.85 ERA last season, she gave up 8 earned runs in 8.1 innings pitched. Regardless of the shaky start for Winegarner, Wilkey said she knows that this tournament will help the team prepare for the rest of the season.

“I think it gives us more confidence,” Wilkey said. “I think we are ready for whatever is to come.”

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