Softball: Wildcats seek improved pitching in big series against No. 22 Ohio State

Sammy+Nettling+blasts+a+line+drive.+The+senior+catcher+moved+up+to+fourth+in+Northwestern%E2%80%99s+batting+order+Sunday%2C+helping+ignite+a+17-run+win.

(Daily file photo by Leeks Lim)

Sammy Nettling blasts a line drive. The senior catcher moved up to fourth in Northwestern’s batting order Sunday, helping ignite a 17-run win.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Reporter


Softball


Kate Drohan sensed her team was pressing.

Northwestern’s pitching struggled as the Wildcats dropped the first two games of a series last weekend at lowly Purdue. Facing big, early deficits made NU’s offense too tight, and Drohan wanted to loosen up her team.

So she changed the lineup for the series finale Sunday. Senior center fielder Sabrina Rabin, who had led off every game to that point, was moved to the second spot in the batting order. Freshman second baseman Rachel Lewis, normally the No. 3 hitter, shifted to the leadoff spot. Junior left fielder Morgan Nelson moved from the cleanup spot to third, and senior catcher Sammy Nettling moved up to fourth. Senior shortstop Marissa Panko, meanwhile, was shifted down from her normal second position to fifth.

The new lineup worked like a charm, as the Cats (23-13, 6-5 Big Ten) scored 5 runs in the first inning, 4 in the third and 5 more in the fifth en route to a 17-8 victory, averting what would have been a disastrous sweep in West Lafayette, Indiana.

“I thought we were pressing a little, and so I just wanted to change things up and make them pitch to some different people,” Drohan said. “Panko moving down to the five-hole, she was tested right away in the first inning and she came up with a huge hit.”

This weekend, NU returns home for a much tougher three-game series against No. 22 Ohio State (24-8, 5-4). The Cats’ struggling pitching staff will be tasked with slowing down a potent Buckeyes offense that leads the Big Ten with 44 home runs. NU’s pitchers, meanwhile, rank next to last in the Big Ten with a 6.15 team ERA in conference play.

Freshman pitcher Kenna Wilkey will play a key role in containing Ohio State’s bats. Wilkey pitched at least four innings in each of the three games last weekend against the Boilermakers. She also helped her own cause on Sunday, hitting a pair of 3-run homers in the Cats’ win.

“I like getting to be on both ends of it, because that means I’m not just doing one thing, I’m helping in all aspects of the game,” Wilkey said. “I like hitting and I like pitching, so I’m glad I get to do both here.”

The Cats will have to be especially wary of Ohio State infielder Lilli Piper, who is hitting .434 with 16 home runs and 44 RBIs, all of which lead the Big Ten. Piper was named Big Ten Player of the Week last week after hitting .667 with 3 homers and 9 RBIs as the Buckeyes swept a series at Rutgers.

Ohio State is much more than just Piper, though. The Buckeyes rank third in the conference with a 2.37 team ERA and are holding opponents to a .200 batting average, so NU’s offense, which has been clicking of late, will face a tough assignment as well.

“Their pitchers do a nice job, they mix speeds well,” Drohan said. “For us, it’s all about how we’re able to play defense and we need to contain their offense. (Our pitchers) have a great attitude about it, and they can’t wait to get their next opportunity, so that’s all we can ask of them.”

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Twitter: @bxrosenberg

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