After clinching the regular-season B1G title despite a tough final series loss to Minnesota, Northwestern Softball had high hopes traveling to East Lansing as the No.1 seed for the postseason tournament. The ‘Cats boasted a successful quarterfinal round beating Wisconsin, but they fell short of Saturday’s title game after a heartbreaking loss to the Michigan Wolverines in the semifinals.
The ‘Cats were awarded a first-round bye after winning the regular season and faced eighth-seeded Wisconsin. Northwestern got on the board fast, with graduate student Rachel Lewis scoring on a wild pitch from Badger pitcher Maddie Schwartz. Danielle Williams was a star in the circle for the ‘Cats per usual, not allowing any hits in the first two innings. In the bottom of the second, with second baseman Grace Nieto and pinch-runner Ayana Lindsey on first and second respectively, Skyler Shellmyer hit a single to third, advancing the runners. Lewis did as she always does, singling up the left-side and allowing two to score for the ‘Cats.
Things looked shaky for a second for Northwestern in the top of the third. Williams quickly got two outs, but after allowing a single and hitting back-to-back batters, bases were loaded for the Badgers. Williams remained calm though, striking out the last batter to leave the Wisconsin runners stranded. In the fifth, the ‘Cats let up their first run of the game off a solo home run by pinch hitter Megan Donahue. Williams remained unfazed, though, striking out the next two to conclude the inning.
The ‘Cats allowed one more run in the top of the sixth but finished the game off strong, running in two more for a final score of 5-2. The last two runs for Northwestern came in the bottom of the sixth after Nieto batted in one RBI and Shellmyer singled to right center, bringing the first-year home.
Williams concluded the game with three back-to-back-to-back strikeouts, bringing her game total to 12.
In the quarterfinals, Northwestern looked like the No. 1 seed we know they are. They scored all of their runs in high-pressure two-out scenarios and stayed aggressive on the basepath. However, they didn’t allow Wisconsin to do so with catcher Jordan Rudd setting a precedent in the first by throwing out Fiona Girardot on a steal attempt.
With the win against Wisconsin, Northwestern was on to the semis to face No. 4-seed Michigan. Williams made the start for the ‘Cats while Meghan Beaubien took to the circle for the Wolverines over first-teamer Alex Storako. The graduate southpaw pitcher was a good pick for the Wolverines as she pitched a scoreless four innings, keeping the bats of the ‘Cats dormant.
In the bottom of the fifth, Beaubien was relieved by first-year pitcher Annabelle Widra after walking Hannah Cady and hitting pinch hitter Lauren Caldrone. After Nieto reached on a fielder’s choice and stole second, the ‘Cats had runners on second and third with no runs scored. The ‘Cats capitalized on the opportunity when Widra accidentally threw a wild pitch while intentionally walking Lewis.
Northwestern maintained the 1-0 lead into the top of the seventh, but one out away from advancing to the B1G Tournament title game tragedy struck. With senior catcher Hannah Carson on first after a base hit up the right side, fifth-year Taylor Bump called game, homering to left field to give Michigan a 2-1 lead. It was too late for the ‘Cats in the bottom of the seventh to come back as Widra finished it off in a 1-2-3 inning.
The ‘Cats fell short of sweeping the Big Ten titles — both regular season and postseason — with Nebraska winning in the tournament championship game. The season isn’t over for Northwestern, though. The ‘Cats were awarded the No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament and will host a regional in Evanston this upcoming weekend. Notre Dame, McNeese and Oakland are the other schools joining the regional with McNeese facing Notre Dame and Oakland facing Northwestern on Friday with first pitch set for 3:30 PM CST.
Northwestern has a long road to the Women’s College World Series ahead, but with Lewis heading out after this season and four seniors in the starting lineup (who may or may not take their COVID year), it feels as if it’s going to be any year, it’ll be this one for Kate Drohan’s ‘Cats.