It’s just a few weeks into conference play Northwestern’s Spring Sports: Baseball, Softball and Lacrosse, but it’s been a rough start for all three in conference play. Northwestern Lacrosse lost by 13 goals to the top-ranked Maryland squad before falling in overtime to Penn, albeit a non-conference foe. And Northwestern Baseball’s started out 1-5 in conference play, getting swept by Michigan over the weekend, while Northwestern Softball’s gone 2-4 against two tough opponents these last two weekends. So let’s take a look at the NUmbers behind Spring Sports’ rough start to conference play.
On the road against the No. 1 team in Women’s Lacrosse, Northwestern needed to come out strong, but instead Maryland went on a 4-0 run to start the game and never looked back. In fact, Maryland went on three runs of four or more unanswered goals in the game topping Northwestern 17-4. Northwestern was outshot, 35-22, including 27-15 on shots on goal. Maryland, led by Taylor Cummings six goals, was able to decimate Northwestern’s defense en route to a huge win. Maryland’s win dropped the ‘Cats to 4-5, putting NU under .500 for the first time since 2002.
Whereas one might have expected Northwestern to lose the battle in the draw circle in both losses, the ‘Cats only lost it by 3 against Maryland and actually won it against Penn. The problem for the ‘Cats over the past few games has been turnovers. Over the past week, Northwestern committed 29 turnovers, 6 more than their opponents. Even when they’re winning the draws Northwestern turnovers are really killing their offensive. Going forward, the ‘Cats have to limit their turnovers if they’re going to have any shot at climbing back into the Top 10, and making a run to the Final Four.
Through two series in conference play, Northwestern pitchers have an 8.03 ERA. That’s not great. Against Ohio State one week ago, Northwestern’s staff was able to limit the Buckeyes to 6, 5 and 5 runs in their three game series. However, Michigan came into Evanston this weekend and averaged 11.0 runs per game in the three-game stretch. Granted, Michigan is a better team than Ohio State, but still Northwestern can’t expect to win games when their staff is giving up 8 runs per game.
What’s also not helping Northwestern’s pitching staff, is the defense behind it. The ‘Cats have committed 9 errors so far in conference play, tied for fourth worst in the Big Ten. And it’s not like the Wildcats defense was much better in non-conference play either. For the entire season, Northwestern’s committed 44 errors, second worst in the Big Ten. Defense and pitching are essential if the ‘Cats want to compete in the Big Ten, but so far, they haven’t been there for the ‘Cats.
Northwestern not only took on two of the best teams in the Big Ten these past two weeks, but also two of the best teams in the nation in No. 2 Michigan and No. 22 Minnesota. The ‘Cats were able to take 2 of 6 but at the same time, Northwestern’s pitchers put up an 11.64 ERA over the six game span. Not a single ‘Cats starter has an ERA below 5.00 in conference play. The good news is that Northwestern won’t be facing the No. 2 or 22 teams in the country every weekend and this week they take on Iowa, who’s 9-21 and 1-5 in the Big Ten.
One bright spot for the ‘Cats? Fran Strub who’s been absolutely mashing it in conference play, hitting at a .778/.846/1.333 clip. The senior outfielder has 7 hits, 2 doubles, 1 home run and 2 RBIs in 9 at-bats. Strub’s also walked three times, drawn a hit-by-pitch and struck out just once in conference play. If she can continue hitting like this, the ‘Cats will have fearsome group of five hitters, Strub along with Morgan Nelson, Brooke Marquez, Sammy Nettling and Amy Letourneau, all of whom are hitting over .300 in Big Ten play.