After a thrilling 3-2 extra innings win against Cal yesterday, Northwestern is back in action against Georgia to open today’s action at the 2018 NCAA Softball Athens Regional.
Georgia, the tournament’s 7-seed, advanced after a 6-2 win against Harvard in a game that featured a nearly three hour long rain delay. The Bulldogs finished 2nd in the SEC, and lead the overall series against Northwestern 5-1, including a 5-2 victory in the 2016 Athens Regional.
Georgia is certainly a formidable foe, but not as strong as they could be given the injury to ace pitcher Brittany Gray, which has sidelined her for the rest of the year. Gray’s ERA of 0.48 was among the best in the country. Without her, the onus has fallen on Mary Wilson Avant and Kylie Bass to carry the load. Both Avant and Bass have ERA’s under 2, but have a much smaller strikeout rate than Gray, which should allow the ‘Cats to consistently put balls in play and pressure the Georgia defense.
On the offensive side of things, Georgia is led by Cortni Emmanuel, a .439 slap hitter who has stolen 48 bases this year, among the best base stealers in the NCAA. If Emmanuel gets on early, Northwestern will have to handle her speed, and also the bats of five other Georgia players who are hitting above .350, led by slugger Alyssa DiCarlo’s 16 HR’s and 58 RBI’s. Behind her, Justice Milz has collected 12 dingers and driven in 53.
On the Northwestern side of things, it will be critical for the offense to be aggressive early and often against the Georgia pitchers. Neither Avant or Bass struggle with command, meaning Northwestern should look to attack them early and often. If Avant and Bass attack the zone, they’ll avoid putting Northwestern on for free, but will also have to handle a high amount of balls in play. The ‘Cats’ overall team speed could prove an issue for the Georgia defense.
There’s no getting around it: Georgia’s offensive numbers are gaudy. 6 hitters with an average of over .350 against SEC pitching is pretty legitimate. Northwestern’s pitchers will need to pitch aggressively against a Bulldog team that isn’t among the most patient in the country. If either Morgan Newport or Kenna Wilkey can get in a groove early, they can mix up their speeds enough to keep this Georgia team off balance and allow the offense to scratch across enough runs to walk away from Jack Turner Stadium as winners today.