Despite some trouble with weather, Northwestern (26-13, 8-5) has ridden hot bats and the arm of Kenna Wilkey to a four-game winning streak after a disappointing series loss to Purdue.
The freshman hurler has been in the circle for each of Northwestern’s last 25 defensive innings and an incredible 39.2 of the last 42, going 5-0 over that seven-game stretch. Wilkey, a Braidwood, Ill. native, has shown no signs of tiring, recording a 2.52 ERA across those 25 consecutive innings.
Oh, and she hammered two homers and knocked home six runs in the series finale against Purdue, the win that began the current streak.
Aside from Wilkey’s outstanding numbers, the Wildcats have had offensive success throughout the lineup, putting 24 runs in 12 innings on an Ohio State pitching staff that boasted the 4th-best ERA in the conference before traveling to Evanston this weekend. The previously 22nd-ranked Buckeyes (26-11, 7-6) were tormented by freshman second baseman Rachel Lewis, who reached base six times and accrued six RBI in the two games the teams played. The Ohio native leads Northwestern with 14 home runs and 50 RBI on the year. Junior shortstop Marissa Panko one-upped her by reaching base seven times, combining that with two tremendous defensive performances to earn Big Ten Player Of The Week honors.
It wasn't just her bat, it was stellar defense like this against No. 22 Ohio State that helped Marissa Panko win this week's @B1GSoftball Player of the Week honor! #B1GCats— NorthwesternSoftball (@NUSBcats) April 17, 2018
» https://t.co/Ljqxd7WjmW pic.twitter.com/DQZiiiy9NI
Despite frigid game time temperatures and rain against Notre Dame (28-16) yesterday, Northwestern’s bats didn’t cool off. For the fourth game in a row, every member of the starting lineup reached base, and this time, it was senior Sabrina Rabin leading the charge from her leadoff spot. The speedy, slap-hitting centerfielder recorded three hits to push her team-leading average to .392, while also swiping four bases to bring her season total to four. On the whole, the Wildcats collected a team record-tying eight steals, a category in which they (and Rabin individually) lead the Big Ten.
Over the four-game winning streak, Northwestern has amassed 49 runs and eight home runs, including three by junior third hitter Morgan Nelson. And after following up a ten game winning streak in the middle of the season by losing five out of eight, the Wildcats look to be back on form.
They’ll have all the opportunities they need to finish the season strongly: a front-loaded conference schedule allows each of the final three series of the year to feature an opponent that is currently under .500 in the Big Ten. Northwestern has already bested their 2017 record (25-29) and is guaranteed to finish with a non-losing record, something that happened every year of Kate Drohan’s tenure until 2016 and 2017.
The Wildcats, like their lacrosse counterparts, had their best teams under Drohan between 2005 and 2009, winning three Big Ten championships (two regular season and one tournament) while reaching the national semifinals in consecutive years and being ranked in 78 consecutive polls. Since, Northwestern has enjoyed only sporadic success before last year’s nadir: the program’s first losing record in the Big Ten since 2011 and only their second in Drohan’s tenure, along with the worst overall record in recent program history.
But Drohan, who has always coached alongside her twin sister Caryl, seems to have found something special this season. Northwestern is starting to receive scattered poll votes and currently slots in 36th in the RPI, all but guaranteeing a berth in the 64-team NCAA tournament. Hosting a four-team regional is probably out of reach for Northwestern, but with a favorable draw and a hot finish to the season, the program’s first appearance in the 16-team Women’s College World Series since 2007 and third in the past 30 years is a distinct possibility.
The lineup is solid and speedy from top to bottom, and the defense and pitching staff are finding their form. With a good mixture of experience and fresh faces alongside a veteran coaching staff, Northwestern softball is looking dangerous as the postseason approaches.