It was a festive weekend of softball in Evanston for everything and everyone except for Purdue fans and the side of Welsh-Ryan Arena facing Rachel Lewis when she stepped up to the plate.
Since Lewis joined the Northwestern softball team in 2018, the arena’s brown brick façade has been peppered every spring with her numerous home runs from the neighboring Sharon J. Drysdale Field. It was no different on Friday, when the graduate student sent not one, but two yellow softballs into orbit — and into the wall — to become the program’s all-time home run leader.
Smashing Tammy Williams’ 13-year-old mark of 57 homers, Lewis hit two more out of the park on Saturday to set the new record at 60-and-counting.
“You can refer to her as the home run queen from now on,” said senior infielder Maeve Nelson at the post-series press conference.
It was only after her fourth homer of the weekend cleared the outfield fence in game two of the series that Purdue made the executive decision to not let the ball near Lewis the rest of the series. Even that didn’t stop her from scoring though — she still rounded the bases in all three of her at-bats on Sunday despite being walked each time.
“I take it as respect,” Lewis said postgame. “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten walked three times in a game.”
That respect has been a long time coming for the graduate student, who has impressed ever since she joined Kate Drohan’s program. Lewis is no stranger to breaking records — her first season as a Wildcat, she broke first-year records for both total RBIs and doubles, earning her unanimous All-Big Ten First Team recognition.
Since then, she’s started in every contest and earned two more all-conference team honors while bearing the title of most walked Wildcat since her sophomore year. That being said, no record or award Lewis has earned so far has proven quite as monumental as hitting that 58th home run to snatch the record. But for her, it started as just a regular day at the ballpark.
“I didn’t care when I broke it. Or if I broke it,” she said. “But it was pretty amazing. Like, an indescribable feeling.”
The roar from the crowd was apparent as the ball cracked off her bat and found its way out over the barricade, but the loudest cheers as Lewis was rounding the bases came from none other than the Northwestern dugout. Among the Gothic Ice-clad Wildcats gathered at the plate to congratulate their new home run leader was Nelson, who said she felt nothing but pure happiness for her teammate and long-time hitting partner.
“She’s the easiest person to be happy for because she’s the hardest worker,” Nelson said. “It’s so easy to want good for her and she deserves it more than anyone else I know.”
Drohan added to the praise, citing Lewis’ poise and ability to stay in the moment as reasons why the Ohio native is so calm yet explosive at the plate. Alongside star pitcher Danielle Williams, Lewis has been the face of Drohan’s talented roster this season, helping the team to what looks likely to be its best regular season record during the head coach’s 21-year stint.
Now, the Wildcats are right where they want to be ahead of the postseason: 31-7 on the season with the College World Series still very much within reach. The only downside to Northwestern’s success this year is that only thirteen regular season contests remain in Lewis’ fifth and final year as a Wildcat. Thankfully, though, her head coach doesn’t think she’ll be slowing down any time soon.
“Now, my challenge to her is to make it untouchable,” Drohan said. “How high can this record be?”