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Softball: Northwestern looks to stay grounded against Purdue

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Softball: Northwestern looks to stay grounded against Purdue

The Wildcats talk at the mound. NU will look to continue its 11-game win streak this weekend against Purdue.

The Wildcats talk at the mound. NU will look to continue its 11-game win streak this weekend against Purdue.

Daily file photo by Andrew Golden

The Wildcats talk at the mound. NU will look to continue its 11-game win streak this weekend against Purdue.

Daily file photo by Andrew Golden

Daily file photo by Andrew Golden

The Wildcats talk at the mound. NU will look to continue its 11-game win streak this weekend against Purdue.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Assistant Sports Editor

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It would be easy for Northwestern to get caught up in the excitement of last weekend’s thrilling sweep of Wisconsin. But the Wildcats have to get right back to work, as they welcome in Purdue for their final home weekend series of the year.

NU (33-7, 12-0 Big Ten) is playing its best softball of the season, riding an 11-game winning streak and holding sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. The Cats still have plenty of work ahead of them, however, and coach Kate Drohan said she has been reminding them to stay focused.

“I actually joke with the team often, I don’t let them get too happy about a win,” Drohan said. “They’ve got about three or four hours after, but when they put their head on the pillow, they’ve got to get refocused for what they need to do the next day.”

Prior to last year, NU had beaten the Boilermakers (30-17, 6-8) in 17 straight meetings. But Purdue took advantage of a struggling Cats pitching staff and won two of three last April in West Lafayette, Indiana, scoring 28 runs in the series.

That Boilermakers team finished 16-40, while this year’s group has nearly doubled that win total already. However, Purdue has not played a particularly difficult schedule, and has stumbled a bit since conference play began. The Boilermakers did pound Notre Dame — a team ranked in the top 30 of RPI — 10-1 on Tuesday.

The Boilermakers are an offense-oriented team, led by Jenny Behan, who leads them in nearly all offensive categories and is in the top five in the Big Ten in hits, runs, home runs and total bases. As a team, Purdue has five starters hitting above .300.

“It hasn’t been that hard to get the team refocused and to get them ready for Purdue,” Drohan said. “We dropped the series to them last year, so there’s a lot of good work happening this week in practice.”

NU’s pitching should be much better equipped to handle the Boilermakers’ offense this year than last. Freshman Danielle Williams has been the best pitcher in the conference, leading the Big Ten in ERA, opponents’ batting average and strikeouts. Sophomore Kenna Wilkey struggled her last time out but is a reliable second option, and senior Kaley Winegarner and junior Morgan Newport have performed well when they’ve been called upon.

The Cats’ two seniors — left fielder Morgan Nelson and first baseman Lily Novak — will be honored before Sunday’s game. Winegarner is a senior as well, but has another year of eligibility after being injured nearly all of last year.

Nelson is a four-year starter, having played third base her first two years before moving to the outfield. She helped carry the offense down the stretch a year ago, batting .459 with 28 RBIs in her last 22 games en route to being named to first-team All-Big Ten. Her power numbers are down this year, but her .441 on-base percentage is tops on the team.

Novak became a full-time starter in 2018, when she was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive team. This year has been the best offensive season of her career, and her extra-innings walk-off home run completed NU’s series sweep last weekend against the Badgers.

“It’s been one of the highlights of my career watching them grow and mature during their time here,” Drohan said. “Two people who care an awful lot about this place; they come from great families, and they’ve put their heart and soul into it.”

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

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