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Softball: Northwestern opens season 6-0

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The ‘Cats swept doubleheaders on three consecutive days en route to their best start in program history.

@NUSBcats

After a 2019 season in which Northwestern reached the NCAA Tournament Super Regional and a experienced more modest but shortened 2020 campaign, the Wildcats were back on the prowl this weekend in Leesburg, Florida, sweeping Big Ten opponents in three days of doubleheaders to start the season 6-0 for the first time in program history.

The ‘Cats outscored Michigan State, Rutgers and Penn State by a combined margin of 41-5 across the six games they played, which included shutouts in each of the first three games. They ended their trip to Leesburg, where each of the Big Ten’s 14 teams played three doubleheaders to kick off a 44-game, conference-only schedule for the 2021 season, in sole possession of first place with the lone unblemished record.

The Wildcats met Michigan State in the first of their three doubleheaders, with 2019 National Freshman of the Year Danielle Williams pitching the first leg and first-year Lauryn Boyd pitching the second. Williams, who saw a dip in production in 2020 after her stellar freshman campaign, was dominant as ever, striking out eight while allowing only one hit and no walks in her complete game shutout.

Boyd was similarly commanding in her college debut, striking out five while allowing two hits and no walks. Her shutout performance was the first in an NU player’s debut since Williams blanked Pacific in her first-ever college start in 2019. Each of the day’s contests ended in 5-0 victories for the Wildcats.

Inside NU’s own Sydney Supple got the ball to start Northwestern’s second doubleheader against Rutgers and picked up right where Williams and Boyd left off. She too pitched a complete game shutout, albeit over fewer innings than the previous day’s starters. After tossing five scoreless innings, Supple batted in three runs on a walk-off single, ending her own start early with a mercy rule 8-0 win in tow. Williams started the second game of the day, pitching another three innings without allowing a run before Boyd allowed an RBI single to the Scarlet Knights’ Gabrielle Callaway in the fifth inning, ending NU’s stretch of scoreless pitching at 23 innings. Still, the ‘Cats bats were hot enough to force another mercy rule after 5 innings at 10-1.

On the final day of their Florida trio, the Wildcats handled Penn State. Williams pitched three scoreless innings in the first game and got eight runs of support in the third inning. Lauren Dvorak allowed three runs (two earned) in her two innings of relief, and Morgan Newport provided two scoreless innings out of the bullpen to secure a 8-3 win. In the final game of the weekend, Northwestern won by its smallest margin thus far, 5-1.

While NU hit no home runs in its opening six games on account of the deep dimensions of Leesburg’s Sleepy Hollow Fields, junior shortstop Maeve Nelson led the pack with eight RBIs, while Nikki Cuchran and Jordyn Rudd each plated five. Junior center fielder Skyler Shellmyer led the team in batting average, singling in eight of her 12 at bats (five bunt singles). Shellmyer, who went somewhat viral prior to the season as the subject of a TikTok compilation of her home run celebrations, also, presumably, led the team in food items photographed on her shoulder:

The ‘Cats will be back in Leesburg soon, with their next series of games scheduled for March 11-14 against Indiana and Ohio State.