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Softball: Northwestern heads west to prestigious Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic

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Softball: Northwestern heads west to prestigious Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic

Lily Novak runs down the line. The senior is hitting .385 on the season

Lily Novak runs down the line. The senior is hitting .385 on the season

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Lily Novak runs down the line. The senior is hitting .385 on the season

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Lily Novak runs down the line. The senior is hitting .385 on the season

Benjamin Rosenberg, Assistant Sports Editor

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Northwestern’s early-season criss-crossing of the country will take the Wildcats very close to where they started the year.

NU (7-2) opened in Fullerton, California before traveling to Chapel Hill, North Carolina last weekend. Now, the Cats are headed back to the Golden State, this time to Cathedral City for the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic. NU will play Duke (5-5) and BYU (4-4) on Friday, Utah (5-5) and Long Beach State (5-5) on Saturday, and No. 5 Washington (8-1) on Sunday.

The Cats have played in this tournament every year since 2007, and coach Kate Drohan considers it her favorite tournament of the regular season. NU went 2-2 in Cathedral City last season.

“This is a premier event in college softball,” Drohan said. “It’s a great way for us to see where we are at this point in the year. The competition is excellent, the atmosphere is great, the crowd size, the crowd noise, all of those things. It’ll be especially valuable for our team now, with so many new people on the field.”

The Cats will look to get some of their offensive stars going this weekend. NU’s two best returning hitters have not played to their capabilities yet: sophomore second baseman Rachel Lewis is hitting just .107, and senior left fielder Morgan Nelson is batting .250. Nelson is still getting on base at a .486 clip, largely due to her Big Ten-leading 11 walks. As a team, the Cats are tied for first in the conference with 50 free passes.

NU has gotten solid production from some unlikely sources as well as some new faces. Freshman designated hitter Nikki Cuchran is the team’s leading hitter, and freshman catcher Jordyn Rudd leads the Cats with 14 RBIs.

Senior first baseman Lily Novak went 7-for-13 last weekend and was named Most Valuable Player at the Chapel Hill site for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and junior pitcher Morgan Newport is the only player in the top 10 in the conference in both batting average and ERA.

“We’ve had a lot of success so far,” Newport said. “The coolest thing about this team is we have such a growth mindset, and we really understand that there’s so much more that we can learn and there’s so many different ways that we can still get better.”

Freshman Danielle Williams has been carrying the pitching staff in the early going, and has been the pitcher of record in each of NU’s last six wins. Newport, sophomore Kenna Wilkey and senior Kaley Winegarner have also seen opportunities in the circle and have filled in admirably when Williams is unavailable. The Cats rank third in the Big Ten with a 1.79 team ERA.

Both the pitching staff and the offense will be challenged this weekend. BYU, Long Beach State and Washington all played in the NCAA Tournament last season, and Washington — the first ranked team NU will face this year — finished as national runners-up. The Cougars, 49ers and Huskies all defeated the Cats last year.

“They’re all quality teams,” Drohan said. “They can play, and each has a unique strength. It’s going to be a real test for our team and we’re excited about it.

Email: benjaminrosenberg2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @bxrosenberg

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