Northwestern vs. Arizona State Game Preview
May 30, 2007
For a second consecutive year, Purple and White will be represented in Oklahoma City as the Northwestern Wildcats kick off its Women's College World Series berth against Arizona State on Thursday. The Wildcats breezed through Regional and Super Regional stops to go a perfect 5-0 in their journey back to the Sooner state.
Arizona State (54-15) shouldn't be too much of a surprise for the Wildcats, who faced them in pre-season action earlier this year. Left-fielder Kelly Dyer hit the first two home runs of her career in a 5-2 victory over the Sun Devils at the Palm Springs Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., on Feb. 24. Trailing 2-1 in the top of the final inning, bases were juiced for the freshman who scorched a shot over the left-center fence. The seventh-inning grand slam handed ASU its first defeat of the year.
Northwestern's offense will need to be just as clutch in Thursday's rematch as the Sun Devils look to avenge their pre-season defeat. After suffering a tough 2-1 loss to Ohio State in the conference tournament, the Wildcats have bounced back to offensive form. This year's newly appointed lead-off batter, Katie Logan has gone 7-for-12 for a .583 average since the Big Ten tourney, but is still second to sophomore stud, Tammy Williams. Williams is easily leading the team with a .588 average thus far in the post-season. Hitting Logan and Williams in has been the job of senior first baseman Garland Cooper. Cooper is ranked seventh in the nation in RBI (69), 13th in slugging percentage (.800), and is NU's anchor in the infield, providing consistency and leadership throughout her career.
There is no denying the strength of the top-half of the Wildcats' line-up, but they will need to rely on more production within the middle and end of their order to put more pressure on opponents.
Northwestern will be opposite Sun Devil hurler Katherine Burkhart. The hard-throwing southpaw is ranked ninth in the nation in earned-run average (1.06) and sixth in strikeouts per game (11.3). In one of the most highly competitive softball conferences in the nation, most notably because of great pitching, Burkhart recently picked up the Pac-10's Pitcher of the Year postseason award.
While teams usually ride one pitcher all the way through the postseason, the Wildcats have two reliable aces. The pitching duo of senior Eileen Canney and freshman Lauren Delaney combined for a team ERA of 1.61 and have compiled 544 strikeouts, 15 shutouts and two no-hitters so far this year. While Canney may be NU's go-to hurler on the mound with a 1.59 ERA and a 31-9 record, Delaney provides a cushion of support and gives head coach Kate Drohan more options in the bullpen. Not far behind, Delaney (19-2) has provided a solid 1.64 ERA in 154 innings for the Wildcats squad.
It might just take a combined effort to get Arizona State's No. 16 out. Center fielder Kaitlin Cochran leads the team, as well as the country, with a .495 batting average. The sophomore from Yorba Linda, Calif., also ranks in the top 10 in the nation in two other hitting categories including slugging percentage (fourth) and runs per game (10th). With only 14 strikeouts on the year, it seems that no one has been able to stop this torrid hitter. It seems with Cochran's conference-leading 56 walks (ranked sixth in the nation) this season, teams would rather surrender one base than see her do any more damage. Beyond senior outfielder Himmita Hixson the rest of the Sun Devils are below .333 averages. Although Arizona State averages about six runs per game, it relies heavily on the long ball to score most its runs with 83 dingers on the year.
Northwestern will have to be careful and keep the ball low, forcing more ground outs to keep the ball inside the park and runs off the board. Using their postseason momentum, the Wildcats are set to clash with the Sun Devils when the first pitch is delivered on Thursday at 2 p.m. CT on ESPN.
Read Graham Hayes eight team break down of the Women's College World Series field on ESPN.com.