Softball: Wildcats prepare for tough competition at Mary Nutter Classic


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Rachel Lewis pulls up at first base during a 2018 game. The second baseman will lead NU into this weekend’s Mary Nutter Classic.

Sophia Scanlan, Development and Recruitment Editor


Northwestern has always circled the Mary Nutter Classic on the calendar as one of its favorites of the season, coach Kate Drohan said.

“It’s a great environment for our game,” she added. “It’s a great opportunity in February to check in and see where you are against other elite programs, and it has some playoff environment to it.”

At this year’s tournament in Palm Springs, Ca., the No. 25 Wildcats (4-5) will battle some of the top rosters in the country. On Friday, NU will face Auburn and No. 7 Florida, and on Saturday, the Cats will take on Long Beach State and No. 15 Oregon.

The pitching staff for the Ducks (11-0) will be especially hard to beat. Three of Oregon’s four pitchers all have ERAs below 2.00, with senior Samaria Diaz clocking in at 0.31, junior Brooke Yanez at 1.38 and freshman Makenna Kliethermes at 1.91. The fourth pitcher, junior Jordan Dail, is still at 2.25.

NU has been preparing for tough pitchers this week in practice, and the squad realizes it might see faster pitching than it’s used to, junior second baseman Rachel Lewis said.

“It’s all about preparation,” she said. “(We’re) just trusting what we’ve done the whole off-season — just trusting that we can hit whatever pitch.”

No. 2 Washington on Sunday will be another tough opponent for the Cats. The Huskies (10-1) were a force to be reckoned with last season, reaching the semi-finals in the Women’s College World Series and boasting a 52-9 record on the year.

And this year, Washington seems just as hot. The Huskies have scored runs in the double digits in more than half of their games, and one player — senior Taryn Atlee — is already hitting .467 after 30 at-bats.

Despite all that, NU has some impressive things going for it, too.

Last weekend at the ESPN Clearwater/St. Pete Tournament the Cats picked up their first win against a top-5 team since 2016 after beating No. 5 Florida State. Lewis earned a Big Ten Player of the Week accolade after putting up an .867 slugging percentage in Florida. And freshmen are already coming through with clutch hits.

Freshman outfielder Gracie Huff, who went 5-for-10 last weekend, said she thinks her class brings “a lot of everything” to the team.

“Our freshman class — they’re great people,” she said. “They bring a lot of skill to the game. It’s super beneficial to the team attitude-wise, game-wise — everybody’s just ready to go in and do their part.”

Huff added that she knows NU has what it takes to do well against these other highly-ranked teams.

“We are right there,” Huff said. “This weekend will be really helpful for the team…to just give it all we have.”

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