Softball: Northwestern hopes to change fortunes at DePaul


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Kenna Wilkey takes a swing. The sophomore drove in three runs in Sunday’s win over Iowa.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Reporter


Coming off a weekend in which Northwestern honored its seven seniors and won two of three against Iowa, the Wildcats will look to stake their claim as the dominant team in the Chicago area when they travel to DePaul on Wednesday.

The last time the road team won in this matchup was 2006, when a Cats team that advanced all the way to the final round of the Women’s College World Series swept a doubleheader from the Blue Demons. NU (32-14, 13-6 Big Ten) is hoping to reverse the recent trend in this series.

DePaul (30-14, 12-3 Big East) is coming in hot, having won five in a row and 13 of its last 16. The Blue Demons are led at the plate by outfielder Kate Polucha, who is hitting .385 for the season. Missy Zoch leads DePaul in the circle with a 13-4 record and 1.74 ERA, and opponents are batting just .182 against her.

“Every year, it’s a really tough game,” coach Kate Drohan said. “This is when you want to be really hitting your stride, and they’ve played very well in conference, we’ve played very well in conference. It’s two very physical, very competitive teams playing each other.”

NU’s pitching staff performed well last week, with sophomore Morgan Newport and freshman Kenna Wilkey each throwing two complete games. The Cats allowed just 7 combined runs in a midweek game against Loyola and a three-game series against Iowa, winning three of those four contests.

Newport got off to a strong start to the season, highlighted by a complete-game shutout against then-No. 11 Alabama, but had struggled the last several weeks before a pair of solid performances against the Ramblers and Hawkeyes.

Wilkey’s performance represented a continuation of the strong work she has put in all season. She has won 10 straight decisions, improving her record to 17-4, and has thrown 64 percent of the team’s innings so far in conference play. Her opponents have been limited to a .221 batting average.

“They’re continuing to work on their craft,” Drohan said. “They’re continuing to understand how they can get people out, adjustments to make pitch to pitch and how to pitch to a lineup three or four times through.”

Since Drohan changed the lineup April 8, NU’s offense has taken off, averaging nearly 9 runs in its last 11 games. Senior shortstop Marissa Panko, who was moved from second in the order to fifth, has seen her average rise from .265 to .313 and driven in 10 runs during that stretch. Not coincidentally, the Cats have gone 10-1 since the change.

Drohan said the way the lineup is structured puts pressure on defenses. Junior first baseman Lily Novak has done a good job extending innings, while Wilkey has been driving in runs from the seventh spot. Senior right fielder Brooke Marquez hits for occasional power, and Newport and freshman third baseman Mac Dunlap, who share the ninth position in the order, have shown the ability to turn the lineup over.

“They’re complementing each other in some really interesting ways,” Drohan said. “They’re understanding how this machine works and how they can simply do their part with it. We’re not asking them to be perfect, but they’re loving the game right now.”

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