Softball series preview: Northwestern vs Ohio State
By Erik Bremer (@Erik_Bremer)
The Northwestern Wildcats (22-18, 10-6 B1G) welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes (25-19, 8-9 B1G) to Sharon J. Drysdale Field for a three-game set this weekend as they look to get back to their winning ways in the Big Ten.
The ‘Cats got off to a flawless start in the conference season, winning their first eight games against unranked opponents. But things fell apart on their last road trip to Minnesota, Notre Dame, and Nebraska, getting swept by the #15 Golden Gophers and falling to the #25 Fighting Irish before dropping the first two games against the Cornhuskers.
A come-from-behind 5-3 win in Sunday’s game in Lincoln was capped by a tremendous diving catch by shortstop Andrea Filler with the tying run on base. With a few demons exorcised in the series finale, the ‘Cats returned home on Wednesday for a doubleheader against the Illinois Fighting Illini. They took the first game in five innings by a score of 12-4, but four errors and six unearned runs in the nightcap proved to be too much in a 9-8 loss.
With six conference games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament in Columbus, Northwestern hopes to rediscover the formula that was so successful during their 13-1 stretch from March 8 to April 6. In order to do that, the ‘Cats will need to cut down on runs allowed. Northwestern has allowed at least nine runs in each of their six conference losses this year.
On paper, the Buckeyes look very similar to the ‘Cats. They’ve beaten up on lesser teams in the conference, but have been humbled during their run-ins with ranked opponents. The Buckeyes are led by Maddy McIntyre and Caitlin Conrad, who have both reached double digits in home runs. In consecutive games last weekend against Rutgers they both joined the 40 RBI-40 Runs club, the first time the Buckeyes have had multiple members since 2010. Erika Leonard has come on strong in the conference season, batting .417 with 24 RBI and 8 home runs in Big Ten competition.
The ‘Cats will rely on Andrea DiPrima and her team-leading .410 average for their offensive attack. The other Andrea (Ahhn-drea), Andrea Filler, isn’t far behind with a .385 average and a team-high 48 RBI. Northwestern has also gotten great production from freshman catcher Sammy Nettling, who missed the first part of the season but has come on strong with a .655 slugging percentage that ranks third behind DiPrima and Filler.