Now three weekend tournaments into their season, the Northwestern Wildcats are starting to show some trends.
When their ace, Danielle Williams, takes the circle, they’re nearly unbeatable. Boasting a 0.95 ERA in 59 innings pitched this season, Williams added to her already impressive resume this weekend at the Mary Nutter Classic, shutting out then-No. 9 Oregon and then No. 5 Washington to pick up her fourth and fifth wins against a ranked opponents this season and move her overall record to 7-1. With a relief victory over San Diego State sandwiched between her two starting appearances, Williams posted a 0.35 ERA on the weekend, with opposing batters hitting for a .100 average while striking out 23 times. Her collectively stunning performance earned her the NFCA’s National Pitcher of the Week Award.
Without the stewardship of Williams’ trusty arm, though, the results have varied for NU. After starting their weekend in Cathedral City, Calif., with the aforementioned victories over the Ducks, Aztecs and Huskies, the ‘Cats faltered in their latter two contests out west, falling to Cal State Fullerton and Texas Tech. As a result, their cumulative record when Williams does not earn a decision moved to 3-3 and their overall record now sits at 10-4.
Northwestern’s weekend started with a doubleheader on Friday. In the first leg, the Wildcats took on the Ducks in what wound up being a remarkable pitcher’s duel. Collectively, the team’s combined for only six hits and one run, which came on a Jordyn Rudd homer in the top of the fourth. Williams carried a no-hitter through 6.2 innings before Oregon’s KK Humphreys broke it up with one out to go with a double that suddenly put NU’s lead in jeopardy.
After Williams walked the winning run aboard and UO’s Kedre Luschar singled to give Humphreys an opportunity to score, Angela Zedak became a game-closing hero, gunning Humphreys down at the plate to secure the shutout for Williams and the win for NU.
That night, the Cardiac ‘Cats emerged victorious again in what became a nine inning dual with the San Diego State Aztecs. Sophomore Lauren Boyd started in the circle for NU and pitched four innings without an earned run. However, after the top of the fourth inning was extended by an error by Grace Nieto, Boyd allowed an RBI single and two-run home run that put the Aztecs up 3-1.
Boyd was pulled after the ‘Cats battled back with a three-run bottom of the fourth which gave them a 4-3 advantage. The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Boyd’s replacement, Sydney Supple gave up another two-run shot in the top of the fifth. NU leveled the score again in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI double off the bat of Nikki Cuchran, but, once again, SDSU struck back with its own RBI double in the top of the seventh to grab a 6-5 edge. With the game on the line in the bottom of the seventh, the Wildcats loaded the bases, allowing Zedak to drive in the tying run with a walk.
The first extra inning was scoreless for both teams, as Williams entered in relief for the ‘Cats. Then, after a scoreless frame for the Aztecs in the top of the ninth, Rudd once again provided the game-winning run, this time on a walk-off RBI single to right.
Another doubleheader awaited the Wildcats on Saturday, and, once again, Kate Drohan turned to her ace in Williams to take on then-No. 5 Washington in the first leg. Williams absolutely dominated the Huskies, allowing just five baserunners over the course of seven scoreless innings while striking out eight. A Rachel Lewis solo homer in the third was all NU needed to take down UW and earn its third win over a top 10 side this season.
Later on in the night, the Wildcats suffered their first loss of the weekend against the Cal State Fullerton Titans, who hammered Lauren Dvorak, NU’s starter, for five earned runs in the top of the first before she was pulled after recording only one out. Supple, who relieved Dvorak, allowed another two runs in the first, leaving the Wildcats in a 7-0 hole before any of them had an at bat.
Rudd was removed from the game — presumably because of an injury or for rest purposes — ahead of the bottom of the first, where her team added two runs to make it a 7-2 ballgame. After the Titans extended their lead to 8-2 in the top of the fifth, the ‘Cats exploded with a five run bottom of the inning that featured another solo shot for Lewis, an RBI groundout for Cuchran and a three-run single for Nieto that cut the CSUF lead to just one run. After a scoreless sixth for both sides, the Titans added an insurance run on a sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh.
Down to their final out, it appeared that Wildcats may have been back to their come-from-behind ways after Skyler Shellmyer cut the Titans’ lead to one with an RBI single. After Lewis walked to load the bases, Rudd was re-entered for backup Lauren Sciborski with a chance to likely win the game with a single. Rudd flied out to deep center, ending the game and NU’s chances for a comeback.
The final game of the weekend prompted the ‘Cats with a rematch against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who they knocked off the previous weekend at the St. Pete Clearwater Invitational. Boyd got the start for NU and tossed three innings, allowing three runs (two earned) in the process. Williams relieved her for the game’s latter half, allowing her lone earned run of the Mary Nutter Classic.
The Northwestern bats never quite got going against TTU, as the Wildcats failed to combat the Red Raiders’ offensive efforts through the first six innings, after which the Big 12 side led 4-0. A two-run bomb by Nieto gave Drohan’s team a glimmer of hope in the top of the seventh, but they couldn’t complete the comeback and ultimately fell 4-2.
The national polls generally reflected a net neutral impact of Northwestern’s trip to Cathedral City on its standing as a team. The NFCA/USA Today poll bumped the ‘Cats up one spot to No. 17, while the D1Softball.com rankings dropped them by a single slot to No. 11.
After three weekend invitationals that have seen them face two or more ranked teams, the Wildcats get a bit of a break this upcoming weekend, when they travel to Carbondale, Ill., for the Southern Illinois Invitational. There, they’ll play five games, all against unranked competition. The slate will open and close with matchups against the Northern Kentucky Norse, with contests against Murray State, Southern Illinois and Ball State sandwiched in between.