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Softball: ‘Cats sweep home opener, rout DePaul as win streak extends to eight

The offense is starting to click... so look out.

Northwestern Softball/@NUSBcats

Softball was back in Evanston this past week, and the Wildcats brought the heat even through the freezing temperature. After taking the last three games of the OMNI Hall of Fame Classic, the ‘Cats returned to Mary J. Drysdale field to take on UIC. Northwestern jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second and never looked back, cruising to a 6-3 victory in the home opener.

Following the final tune-up, NU welcomed the Golden Gophers for a three-game set to open its Big Ten schedule. In the series' first game, the Wildcats erased a four-run deficit to take a 6-4 lead, but once again, they fell behind 7-6 before Skyler Shellmyer’s RBI single knotted the game up at seven. Both teams traded empty frames in extra innings until Hannah Cady launched a ball over the left field fence, hitting off Welsh-Ryan Arena, for a walk-off homer to lift the ‘Cats to an 8-7 victory. After Saturday’s game was postponed, Northwestern poured it on the Gophers in Sunday’s doubleheader. In game one, it took NU only five innings to force a 9-1 mercy rule victory and took game two with a commanding 5-1 win, completing the three-game sweep.

The offensive onslaught continued Tuesday at DePaul when the ‘Cats scored 20 runs in five innings — the most in a single game since Feb. 12, 2016. Also, Danielle Williams was three outs from perfection, as the ‘Cats’ routed the Blue Demons 20-1 for their eighth win in a row. Chicago’s Big Ten team celebrated its hot streak with the world-famous Weiner Circle, so here are the takeaways for the squad that is on a roll (or hot dog bun).

The offense is starting to click, and it is extremely dangerous

For weeks now, the main concern around Northwestern softball is when the offense is going to start producing a large number of runs. The ‘Cats had scratched three or fewer runs in nearly 50% of games; however, since returning to Chicagoland, Northwestern is getting contributions from the entire lineup. Starting at the top of the lineup, Shellmyer, who had a slow start to her fifth year in purple and white, had a great week at the plate. The center fielder, who is a career .314 hitter, had four multi-hit games this week — including a three-hit, four RBI game against the Gophers.

Nikki Cuchran, who came into the weekend batting .203, had three multi-hit games, including two season-high, three-hit games. She added six RBIs to her total and connected on her first home run of the season. If the fifth-year, who batted .330 last season, can continue to hit like she did for the rest of the Big Ten season, the Wildcats will get a big boost to the heart of the lineup.

In addition to the power bat of Cuchran, slugger Hannah Cady had a good weekend back in Chicagoland. The junior collected six hits, including launching a walk-off homerun against the Gophers. Cady’s three-RBI game against DePaul was her season high. and the junior has yet to strike out in Cook County. With Cuchran and Cady beginning to produce offensively, the sluggers have eased the pressure on catcher Jordyn Rudd to be the Wildcats’ main source of offense.

Everyone wearing purple and white seemed to reach base this past week. After a slow start to her season, sophomore Ayana Lindsey was scorching hot when the ‘Cats returned to the J. Lindsey, who was batting a mere .125 before through non-conference play, tied her career high with a three-hit day in the first game against Minnesota and came around to score three runs — including the tying one. Lindsey was also successful on both attempts to swipe an extra bag. By the end of the week, the sophomore had raised her batting average to .250. With the offense getting support from unsuspecting players like Lindsey, the ceiling for this team is sky-high.

The pitching staff is so deep

Well, a Northwestern pitcher was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week — can you guess which one? No, not Danielle Williams, although the ‘Cats’ ace was three outs from a perfect game against the Blue Demons, but junior Lauren Boyd took home the honor. Boyd, who missed time last year with an injury, did not give up an earned run in her eight innings of work this weekend. Coming into a tied game Friday afternoon, Boyd threw three innings of scoreless softball, including working out of two jams to hold the Golden Gophers off the board and allow Cady to end it with one swing of the bat. Not to be outdone, No. 15 returned to the circle for game one of the doubleheader, and she went the distance for her third complete game of the year, giving up five hits and one run (unearned). Boyd’s 2.03 ERA is the best on the ‘Cats’ roster, and opponents are batting .226 against her — the lowest by any pitcher for Northwestern.

Furthermore, Cami Henry has been a great addition to the ‘Cats’ rotation. Henry pitched a gem of a one-run, complete game to complete the sweep of the Gophers. She struck out six, her second-highest of the season. Henry’s experience in the circle provides solid depth behind Williams, and No. 14 has proven that the jump from division three to division one was a smooth transition.

This team is having fun

With the high expectations coming into the season, combined with the slow start, it would have been very easy for Northwestern to collapse under the pressure; however, it has been the exact opposite for the ‘Cats. Everyone is engaged throughout the game, and it is obvious how much everyone loves the game. Even in the freezing temperatures in Chicago, the Wildcats know how to party.