Covering the Bases: May 12
It’s nearly the end of the road for Northwestern baseball and softball. Wildcat softball reached the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they will play in the South Bend Regional hosted by Notre Dame beginning Friday against Kentucky. NU baseball lost two mid-week games to Kansas before dropping two of three in Ann Arbor against Michigan.
First Base: Heelan Homers
Scott Heelan continued to hit well out of the leadoff spot in place of injured outfielder Kyle Ruchim, collecting hits in four of the Wildcats’ five games this week, including his first homer of the season Wednesday against Kansas. RJ Watters filled in nicely for Ruchim in the outfield and at the plate, collecting two hits in Northwestern’s first four games of the week. The Wildcats also got a pair of homers from unlikely sources, as Luke Dauch hit his first homer of the season Wednesday against Kansas, and Mike Trucco added a homer Friday against Michigan.
Second Base: Stolley Solid
Reliver Jake Stolley had a terrific week, notching the save in the Wildcats’ only win of the week on Saturday. Stolley threw two perfect innings, striking out two, to earn his sixth save of the season and preserve a 9-8 lead. Stolley also threw three scoreless innings Wednesday against Kansas and left with the Wildcats leading 6-4, but NU lost after Joe Hoscheit was unable to hold the lead in the ninth. Graduate student Nate Walker delivered two scoreless outings out of the bullpen (Tuesday against Kansas and Sunday against Michigan), and Joe Schindler bounced back from a tough start Tuesday (six innings, five earned runs) to earn the win in relief on Saturday (three innings, two earned runs). It was not a great week for NU’s starting rotation, however. None of the three weekend starters made it past the fifth inning, and all allowed at least five runs.
Third Base: Shutout Win, Shutout Loss for Softball
Kristen Wood twirled a three-hit shutout in the Big Ten quarterfinal against Purdue, lifting the Wildcats past Boilermaker ace Lilly Fecho for the fourth time this season. Wood allowed three hits and walked four, but struck out six and need only 107 pitches to complete seven innings. RBI from Andrea Filler, Sammy Nettling, and Amy Letourneau gave Wood more than enough run support in the 3-0 win. In the semifinal, top seed Michigan one-hit the Wildcats, winning 9-0 in five innings. Wood struggled against the high-powered Wolverine offense, allowing four runs in three innings. Letourneau relieved Wood and allowed five earned runs while recording only three outs. At the plate, Letourneau recorded Northwestern’s only hit off of Michigan pitcher Megan Betsa, who improved to 26-4 on the season with the victory.
Home Plate: Winnable Regional for Wildcats
Northwestern softball will play in the South Bend regional this weekend, hosted by Notre Dame, and the Wildcats have a chance to win the four-team pool and advance to the round of 16. Northwestern first faces Kentucky, who finished 29-24 overall, and 5-19 in the tough SEC. While Norhwestern has a slightly better record, Kentucky boasts a higher RPI ranking (UK is 25th, while NU is 34th). These two Wildcats should play an even matchup on Friday. Notre Dame and Ball State round out the regional field. NU lost to the Irish 3-2 on a walk-off earlier this year, so the ‘Cats know they can play with Notre Dame. Kristen Wood no-hit Ball State earlier this season, so NU knows they can beat Ball State. All in all, a great draw for Northwestern. If the Wildcats play well, they could advance to the tournament’s second weekend.