Danielle Williams and the rest of the Wildcats simply can do no wrong.
The first-year pitcher improved to 25-3 on the year on Tuesday, striking out nine batters in five scoreless innings pitched in the first game of a double-header against Illinois. Williams also knocked a two-run home run in the bottom of the third of game one to cushion her own run support.
Oh, and she then went ahead and threw five more innings in game two to help complete the sweep.
“We took a look at her pitch count, and she was very efficient in that first game,” coach Kate Drohan said when asked about her decision to start Williams twice in a row. “And we liked her rhythm. We talked about using her in a save situation, but we just went with her so she didn’t have any extra warm-up pitches or anything like that. We liked how she was challenging their hitters, so we kept going with her.”
Buoyed by Williams’ superb offensive and defensive efforts, Northwestern (38-7, 17-0 B1G) defeated the Fighting Illini (27-19, 6-11) 8-0 in a five-inning, run-rule victory before squeaking out a second win by a score of 4-2. The sweep extended the Wildcats’ win streak to 16 and improved the team’s Big Ten record to a remarkable 17-0, the best conference start in program history.
Over 10 innings across the series, Williams wound up striking out 15 and giving up just seven hits and two runs. Her ERA sits at 1.25, and she has substantially more strikeouts (237) on the year than innings pitches (171.1). Add in her two home runs and .279 batting average , and you’re looking at one of the most impressive athletes on Northwestern’s campus.
The rest of the ‘Cats’ bats provided Williams with plenty of help. Shortstop Maeve Nelson tallied three RBI and a home run in the first of the two wins, while catcher Jordyn Rudd showed off her own power. Rudd hit a solo blast to extend the Northwestern lead to 8-0 in game one before mashing a grand slam in the second game of the double-header. The four runs said bomb brought across was all the Wildcats got in game two, but it would prove to be enough to propel them to victory.
“We had the bases loaded with no outs, and our three batter and four batter strike out,” Drohan said. “For us to have the balance and the poise to keep attacking in that moment and not let the momentum slip away from us was a huge moment for Rudd.”
While Rudd’s bases-clearing home run kept Northwestern ahead for the remainder of the game, the ‘Cats would turn to an arm other than that of Williams for the first time all series in the top of the sixth. Drohan brought in southpaw thumber Morgan Newport (who utilizes a mix of spins and plenty of off-speed) to close out the final two innings.
“We liked the lefty matchup against their team, so we knew we were going to go heavy with our lefties today,” Drohan said. “[Newport] threw very well against them last year, and she’s really, really tough in that situation, so we had a lot of confidence in her.”
Newport would get the job done, earning her second save of the season and giving up just one hit in the process. Northwestern will likely need to continue to get quality outings from pitchers not named Williams as they prepare for a three-game weekend series against Michigan State.
“It may,” responded Drohan to question about whether Williams’ recent heavy workload will have an effect on the upcoming weekend series. “We’ll kind of evaluate how she feels tomorrow and how she recovers, but Danielle is having a heck of season, right? But we’ve got a great staff behind her, and today was strictly about the matchup. So, I’m really counting on Kenna [Wilkey] and Kaley [Winegarner] to have some big weekends here.”