Northwestern Softball getting back on track in time for B1G Tourney
The softball regular season has come to an end, and Northwestern, despite a sizeable mid season slump, is in pretty good position.
After dropping 5 of 6 to Minnesota and Nebraska in mid April, Northwestern rallied to close its season winning 7 of its last 10 to reach the Big Ten Tournament in the 4th seed.
Northwestern isn’t without its share of issues. Amy Letourneau missed all of the Iowa series with injury, which forced Olivia Duehr, usually an outfielder, to pitch serious innings against the Hawkeyes. In 9 innings over the weekend, Duehr gave up 5 earned runs on 12 hits. Not bad for a player who’s been solely a position player for 3 years, but certainly not what you want from a second starter. On the season, Duehr is 1-2 with a 7.18 ERA and a batting average against of nearly .345. Northwestern will either have to hope that Letourneau can get back on the field ASAP, or hope their bats can carry them in some high scoring affairs.
The good news for the Wildcats is that relying on their offense isn’t that bad of a strategy. The Wildcats are in the top half of the conference in nearly every offensive start of importance, including batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage.
The two Andreas (not pronounced the same) DiPrima and Filler are both hitting above .395, and the big surprise of the season, freshman Sabrina Rabin, is hitting .411 with 27 stolen bases. Rabin is a really fun player to watch. Anything hit to the left side of the infield on the ground is a single. She’s that fast. DePaul moved one of their outfielders in to the infield to try and plug holes, while leaving center field completely vacant, and Rabin nearly took of the pitcher’s head off with a line drive that, had it gone past her, would have probably been an inside the park homerun. Julia Kuhn, Sammy Nettling, and Amy Letourneau (when healthy) have also been big helps to the NU offense.
But even with Northwestern’s potent offense, the Wildcats face a pretty stiff test in the Big Ten Tournament. Assuming Illinois can handle business against Purdue, the lowest seed of the tournament, it will be a subway series (of sorts) in the 2nd round of the tournament. Northwestern split two games against Illinois in Evanston earlier this year. Illinois is similar to Northwestern in that they have a top tier offense (team is hitting .328 on the year), but a below average pitching staff (Illinois pitchers have a combined 6.00 ERA).
If NU can knock off the Illini, it’d be pretty difficult to see them advance to the finals. Lurking in the probable semi final matchup are the Michigan Wolverines. All they’ve done this year is go 21-2 in the Big Ten, 48-6 overall, and moved up to the 5th ranked team in the nation. Michigan brings with them the best pitching staff in the Big Ten by a large margin. The Wolverines have given up 55 less runs than anyone else in the conference. Multiply that by the best run producing offense in the Big Ten and you’ve got a real juggernaut.
But in a one game series, weirder things have happened. For the Wildcats, the hope now is that the bats can stay red hot and Letourneau can get back to the field. If those things can happen, Northwestern just might stay in Columbus a little bit longer than the experts think.