With their first two weekends of play concluded, it’s been a season of sunshine, shutouts and success for Northwestern so far.
Coming off a 6-0 start to the season — the first in program history — that propelled them into the ESPN/USA Softball Top 25, the Wildcats returned to Leesburg, Florida for their final neutral-site contests of the regular season and were once again dominant, albeit slightly less so than in their opening weekend. Behind more stellar pitching performances from Danielle Williams, the ‘Cats won five of their six games this weekend against Indiana and Ohio State to improve to 11-1 on the season and keep their spot at the top of the Big Ten.
Williams, who previously earned the Big Ten’s first Pitcher of the Week award this season with three shutout starts, picked up right where she left off in the first game of the weekend and a Thursday doubleheader against Indiana. She fanned seven and allowed only five baserunners en route to yet another scoreless start. Meanwhile, her catcher Jordyn Rudd batted in two runs on two hits while scoring a run of her own as the ‘Cats waltzed to an 8-0 mercy-rule victory in five innings.
Taking the circle in the second leg of the doubleheader was first-year Lauren Boyd, who earned two wins in her first two career starts in the opening weekend. Her performance was nearly as stunning as Williams’, as she allowed three hits and one earned run while striking out five over six innings pitched. Rudd once again provided an offensive spark, driving in another two runs and scoring once again, while right fielder and pitcher Morgan Newport launched the team’s first home run of the year in the fourth inning. Newport would later close the game out to secure an 8-1 win for the ‘Cats.
Sydney Supple got the ball to start the series finale against the Hoosiers on Friday but was pulled after walking the first two batters of the game. Williams, seemingly unfatigued from her start the day earlier, came in to relieve and got out of the jam unscathed with help from center fielder Skyler Shellmeyer, who threw a dart home to catch Indiana’s lead runner for the first out of the game.
Williams would pitch the rest of the game nearly flawlessly, allowing no runs and only two hits while striking out six. She would get only one run of support on a double from shortstop Maeve Nelson in the sixth inning, but that was all that was needed due to her pitching dominance. NU completed their sweep of the Hoosiers with a 1-0 win.
The next day, Boyd started the first leg of a doubleheader to kick off the second series of the weekend against Ohio State. Simply put, the Buckeyes got the better of the first-year pitcher, scoring four runs on seven hits over the course of her five-inning start. For the second straight game, the Northwestern offense couldn’t get much going, as OSU’s Allison Smith allowed just four hits and two runs in a complete game start. The Buckeyes’ emerged with a 4-2 victory, ending the Wildcats’ season-opening win streak at nine.
The Wildcats’ downswing didn’t last long, though, as Williams took the circle for the third time in as many days. Once again, she was virtually untouchable, walking no batters while allowing only five hits in another shutout showing. The Northwestern bats also came alive once again in the day’s second game, with Newport leading the way with three RBIs on two hits. Five innings was all NU needed to force a 9-0 mercy-rule win and get back on track.
The weekend’s wildest affair was its final one, a Sunday morning series finale against Ohio State. Williams once again started, allowing her first run of the season in the first after having tossed 30 scoreless innings. She would later allow another run, while the offense stayed scoreless through six innings. In the top of the seventh, down to their last out with two runners on base, the ‘Cats staged their first comeback of the season, with Rudd singling in a run before a bases-clearing triple from Newport gave them a 3-2 lead.
Newport triples on a 3-2 count in the top of the seventh w/ two-outs to take the lead.— Tara Henry (@notarabledays) March 14, 2021
Love the dugout celebration. Stay till the end of the video. @NUSBcats up by one. Last shot for the Buckeyes. pic.twitter.com/r99zdVu16U
Williams would come out for the final inning and struck out the last two batters of the game, giving her 10 Ks on the day and cementing a 3-2 Northwestern win. Her 7-0 record is the best in the Big Ten, and her 0.38 ERA is the league’s second-best mark. Meanwhile, Rudd and Nelson are now tied with Illinois’ Kailee Powell for the conference lead in RBIs with 10 each, and Shellmeyer is tied with Purdue’s Rachel Becker for the best batting average in the conference at .500. And, for those wondering, yes, she’s still got an (insert food here) on her shoulder.
Weekend Recap: Playing with a (insert food here) on our shoulder pic.twitter.com/nytBbmrTf7— Emmie Farnam (@emmiefarnam) March 14, 2021
The Wildcats still lead the conference, with Illinois trailing them by one game at 10-2. They’ll take 12 days off before they return to action with a home series against Wisconsin beginning on March 26. The upcoming games will be NU’s first at Drysdale Field since they hosted a regional playoff round in 2019.