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Softball heads to California looking to build on hot start

Ranked No. 23, the Wildcats can earn big wins against Stanford and North Dakota State

Northwestern Athletics

Off to its best start since 1987, Northwestern softball (11-3) is the hottest team on campus. So far in tournament play, the Wildcats have proved they can hang tough with the best of the best and take care of business when expected.

The Wildcats cracked ESPN/USA Softball’s top 25, coming at 23, and they just missed the USA Today/Coaches’ top 25, receiving 41 votes. After last weekend’s 4-1 in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic where NU hung with No. 5 Washington, the Wildcats have earned their ranking.

Danielle Williams has been the leading story for the Wildcats early on in the season. The first-year pitcher has been spectacular in her first 10 starts, boasting a 9-1 record and a 0.99 ERA.

The pitching staff as a whole has been phenomenal. Northwestern is one of only three Big Ten teams with a sub-2.00 ERA. The team has 101 strikeouts, which ranks third in the conference as well.

Williams and the rest of her pitchers have helped lead Northwestern to nearly spotless tournament play. Last weekend, the Wildcats went 4-1, only losing to the Huskies. Williams contributed to the wins with a shutout and a walk-off single later in the weekend.

This weekend, they will travel to Palo Alto to play in the Stanford Tournament where they will face Cal Poly, Stanford, North Dakota State and Montana in NU’ s second-to-last tournament before conference play.

Northwestern will face a wide variety of talent this weekend, which will emphasize the importance of controlling the pace of the game and not falling victim to playing to the level of the competition.

Cal Poly has struggled early on this season. The Wildcats will face the 3-10 team twice this weekend and should have little struggle, barring any other developments.

Next, Northwestern will face off against Stanford (11-2), who is coming off a perfect 5-0 weekend at the LSU Invitational in Baton Rouge. Stanford defeated No. 7 LSU at home and Michigan, both tournament teams from last year. The team is on a five-game win streak and should be tough competition for Northwestern.

North Dakota State will be the third opponent for Northwestern this weekend. While the Bison currently sit at a 7-6, their record does not demonstrate their talent. Four of their six losses were to ranked teams. Like Northwestern, they have won the games they should and lost the tough ones. North Dakota State was also a tournament team last year like Northwestern, so the matchup against the Wildcats could be a tossup.

Finally, the matchup against Montana should warrant a similar outcome the Cal Poly game. Montana has also struggled early on this season and currently sits at a 3-12 record. After winning their first game, Montana lost 10 straight games, including a 1-11 loss to Utah State, who Northwestern beat 12-0. The Wildcats should be a tough match for Montana.

This weekend’s games will begin Friday at 12:15 p.m. CT.