Softball: No. 22 Northwestern readies for top-three clash against Minnesota

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Daily File Photo by Katie Pach

Rachel Lewis prepares to hit the ball. The second baseman has a .357 batting average this season.

Lawrence Price, Reporter


Softball


After moving up two spots in the NCAA College Softball rankings, No. 22 Northwestern (18-2, 18-2 Big Ten) will look to maintain its top seed in the Big Ten as it welcomes Minnesota (15-5, 15-5 Big Ten) to Sharon J. Drysdale Field for a four-game series this weekend.

The teams last met nearly two years ago in the semifinals of the 2019 Big Ten Tournament. After losing the regular season series to the Golden Gophers 2-1 that year, the then-No. 2 Wildcats were unable to get their revenge in the postseason, losing 4-0 to then-No. 3 Minnesota and tallying only one hit the entire game.

Flashing forward to 2021, the Golden Gophers will have a hard time holding NU to a single hit, since the Cats have the best batting average in the Big Ten at .316. 

Leading the charge at the plate for the purple-and-white are senior second baseman Rachel Lewis, graduate utility player Morgan Newport and junior center fielder Skyler Shellmeyer. Shellmeyer leads NU with a .429 batting average —  the fifth-highest mark in the conference — while Newport and Lewis hit .375 and .357, respectively. 

These stats were on full display in this past weekend’s series against Maryland, with the Cats averaging almost eight runs per game.

“We battled hard. Offensively we did a nice job,” coach Kate Drohan said. “Overall I liked our balance offensively throughout the lineup.”

Lewis, who shined in the second game of a double-header against Maryland with two home runs, uses a simple strategy to perform well at the plate. 

“Just thinking about hitting the ball well and on a line,” Lewis said. “Just making good contact and staying with my gameplan.”

The NU’s bats have been hot lately, which has helped the squad accumulate 134 runs over 20 games, the most in the conference. Meanwhile, Nebraska — the team with the second-most runs in the Big Ten — has 95. 

However, the Cats will face a challenge from the Minnesota pitching staff. Autumn Pease and Amber Fisher both rank in the top 10 in earned runs allowed with 1.24 and 1.64, respectively. 

Both NU and the Golden Gophers defeated their opponents, Maryland and Purdue, 3-1 this past weekend. Despite dropping one game each to a mid-ranked Big Ten squads, the Cats and Minnesota are both top-3 teams in the conference, raising the stakes for the Big Ten matchup. The Golden Gophers are only three games back in the standings from NU. 

“It will be a fun one,” Drohan said. “It is going to be an opportunity for us to go out and play against a team in the top half of the conference and we will take it one game at a time, but I know our team is excited about it.”

NU’s schedule only gets harder from here over the next few weeks. After Minnesota, the Cats will face No. 23 Michigan, Iowa and Illinois, who all rank in the top five of the Big Ten. 

While Saturday’s games will air on Big Ten Network+ and Sunday’s contest will happen on the Big Ten Network, the clash on Friday will air on ESPNU, marking NU’s first appearance on the channel this season. 

According to Lewis, the Cats have been able to find different ways to pull out victories this season. As a result, she feels like her team can adapt and be ready for whatever happens on the diamond.

“We had a lot of people who contributed this weekend, and the past few weekends, a lot of the pitching staff too,” Lewis said. “We are rolling with what we have right now and continuing to learn and grow and how to win in different situations and keeping that momentum.” 

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