The Daily Northwestern

Softball: Wildcats prepare to be aggressive entering Husky Invitational

Marissa Panko prepares to run the bases. The senior shortstop had a timely hit in the Wildcats’ offense explosion against St. John’s.

Marissa Panko prepares to run the bases. The senior shortstop had a timely hit in the Wildcats’ offense explosion against St. John’s.

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Marissa Panko prepares to run the bases. The senior shortstop had a timely hit in the Wildcats’ offense explosion against St. John’s.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Reporter

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Coming off a 2-2 showing last weekend in Cathedral City, California, Northwestern will travel to the West Coast again this weekend, this time to Seattle for the Husky Invitational.

The Wildcats (7-6) will play five games in three days. NU will take on Portland State (2-7) twice, as well as host and No. 1 Washington (18-0), Brigham Young (6-9) and No. 11 Alabama (10-2).

The Cats will look to keep up their offense from the last game of the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic. After scoring just nine runs in its previous six games, NU exploded for a 12-3, run-rule victory over St. John’s to climb back above .500.

“I liked our aggressiveness, for sure,” coach Kate Drohan said. “It’s just about timely hitting at this point. We do a great job generating our opportunities, now it’s about driving those runs in.”

The Cats finally started to get some timely hitting against the Red Storm. With runners at second and third and two outs in the first inning, junior first baseman Lily Novak delivered a two-run single to get NU’s offense started. In an identical situation in the second, senior shortstop Marissa Panko hit a two-run double to extend the lead to 4-0. The Cats would cruise from there.

The hit came at a critical time for Panko, who has struggled at the plate in the early going. The clutch double was her only hit of the weekend, and she is hitting just .231, compared to .329 last season.

Senior center fielder Sabrina Rabin, though, is starting to find a groove. NU’s other table setter went 8-for-14 in Cathedral City with five stolen bases and four runs scored, raising her season average from .242 to .340.

“We’re working on situational hitting right now in practice,” Novak said. “Knowing that there are going to be people behind me that can pick me up, there’s no pressure on me, there’s more pressure on the defense with runners on base.”

While the Cats’ offense has been inconsistent, the pitching has been solid, even with junior Kaley Winegarner currently sidelined by an injury. Freshman Kenna Wilkey struggled against the powerful offenses of Long Beach State and Tennessee, but junior Kenzie Ellis and sophomore Morgan Newport have impressed. Newport earned both of NU’s wins this past weekend.

Ellis said the injury to Winegarner provided opportunities for the other pitchers to step up in unfamiliar roles.

“Obviously it’s not an ideal situation, but we’ve all rallied together,” Ellis said. “Other people are going to step up in roles that maybe they weren’t expecting at the beginning of the year, but now are ready to fill. We train all year for situations like this to happen.”

Drohan said the pitchers feel fresh and did a great job picking each other up, and that she is not worried about their durability. The Cats’ pitching depth will be tested again in Seattle, especially against a Washington team that ranks fourth in the country with a .389 team batting average.

The Huskies also rank third nationally in team earned run average, while Alabama is seventh, so NU’s hitters will have their work cut out for them as well. But the Cats’ performance against St. John’s suggests their offense might have turned a corner.

“There was an aggressive edge to our game on Sunday,” Drohan said. “I think the team is really understanding the kind of firepower we have, and we’re looking to build off that.”

Twitter: @bxrosenberg