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Softball: Williams perfect, ‘Cats back on track

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History for NU’s ace.

S.J. Carrera, Inc.

Following last week’s sweep at the hands of Minnesota, Northwestern pitcher (and Inside NU’s own) Sydney Supple wrote the following in a piece for the Northwestern Athletics’ website:

“I choose us every day. I choose us before every game no matter the opponent. I still choose us after every game, no matter what the scoreboard may say, because I know our fight and I know the work we have put in to prepare us for tough moments to fight back and to fight alongside your teammate.”

The resolve, perseverance and grit of the Wildcats that Supple described was on full display this weekend in Iowa City, where NU took three of four from the Iowa Hawkeyes and bounced back from their dismal series against the Golden Gophers. No one was more impressive than the team’s ace, Danielle Williams, who became just the fifth Northwestern pitcher ever to throw a perfect game by doing so in the series opener.

By the time Williams threw her first pitch of the day, the Wildcats already had scored what would be the game-winning run. Rachel Lewis homered in the second at-bat of the series, and would finish a double away from the cycle, adding a triple and two doubles throughout the course of the contest.

“Rachel hitting a home run (in) the second at-bat of the game, I feel like that was a big trigger for us,” Williams told The Daily Northwestern.

Williams started her monumental night by forcing a ground ball to Lewis. That play would foreshadow how much of the game would go, as the 10 of the 21 outs Williams forced on her way to history were groundouts. The first inning also saw Williams strike out the Hawkeyes’ strongest force at the plate, Denali Locker, for the first of six K’s that night. Williams’ was at her most dominant during the fifth inning, when she struck out all three of the Iowa hitters she faced.

At that point, NU’s head coach Kate Drohan said that the whole team’s intensity took a rise.

“The golden rule is, ‘You can’t talk about it, you can’t say it out loud,’” Drohan told The Daily. “But the cheers got a little bit every time she was ahead in the count, or a swing and a miss, there was a lot more excitement and energy in the dugout.”

In the final at-bat of the game, Williams struck out Locker once more, this time catching her watching a third strike that solidified the monumental accomplishment.

With that pitch, Williams etched her name permanently into the Northwestern lore. Her perfect performance was the first thrown by a Wildcat in 16 years, and the first tossed over a complete game of seven innings since Lisa Ishikawa dominated Michigan State in one of two consecutive no-hit outings in 1984.

The following day, the Wildcats suffered from some perfect game hangover early in the first of two Saturday contests. They fell behind Iowa 5-0 in the first, and the Hawkeyes added another run in the second while Northwestern’s bats stayed silent. By the time the game reached the fifth inning, Iowa was ahead 7-1.

But, true to the gritty identity Supple described in her piece, the ‘Cats didn’t give in. They struck back with three runs in the fifth on back-to-back home runs from Maeve Nelson and Angela Zedak, and punched in five in the sixth through a series of singles, walks, errors and stolen bases that put them within striking distance, before an RBI fielder’s choice knotted the score at seven, and a two-run double off the bat of Zedak that gave them a 9-7 advantage.

To close things out, none other than Friday’s hero, Danielle Williams, emerged from the bullpen. She faced the minimum six batters over two innings of relief pitched, striking out all but one and finishing off the Hawkeyes in the process.

Williams started the second leg of the doubleheader, and was once again marvelous. Just a day after tossing a perfect, complete game and less than an hour after securing another win for her team on the mound, she tossed five and two-thirds innings without accruing an earned run (four unearned runners would score), all while striking out another nine Iowa hitters. The offense — led by Nelson, who had four hits in four at-bats — scored seven, and Supple finished the job Williams started, retiring the final batter of the sixth inning and forcing three outs in the seventh to ensure a 7-4 win for the ‘Cats.

The final game of the series saw NU fall behind early and never fully recover. Starter Lauren Dvorak gave up four runs in the first while retiring only one batter before getting pulled, and while her reliever, first-year Lauren Boyd, got through the remaining five and two-thirds innings only allowing one run, the Wildcats’ bats dried up, putting up only two runs against the three-pitcher combo Iowa head coach Renee Gillispie trotted out for the series finale. Still, Northwestern walked away with the series win, a welcome return to what had been its season norm before a shaky weekend in Evanston.

With her stellar series in tow, Williams now has a 1.40 ERA, the best on the team and fifth-best in the Big Ten. Her 12 wins this season also lead the team and are the second-most by any pitcher in the conference behind only Michigan ace Alex Storako, who has 13 W’s and a stunning conference-best ERA of 0.41.

The ‘Cats still sit at third in the Big Ten, the same spot they entered the weekend occupying. However, they’ll have an opportunity to move up next weekend, as they travel to Ann Arbor for a four-game set against the top dogs of the conference, the 20th-ranked Michigan Wolverines.