EVANSTON, Ill. — It’s tournament season in Evanston, and the Wildcats took their first step toward advancing out of their regional, defeating Oakland 9-2 Friday afternoon. The outcome wasn’t always certain, due to a shaky third inning, but the ‘Cats were able to pull ahead behind an explosive fifth frame to earn their first win of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
Northwestern’s ace, Danielle Williams, began her tournament in a big way on the mound. The senior pitcher notched eight strikeouts, while allowing just four hits and two earned runs.
The Wildcats were led at the plate by Maeve Nelson, who went 2-for-4 with a pair of homers and four RBI.
Williams opened the game strong, retiring three of the first four Golden Grizzly batters. The Wildcats didn’t wait long after to get on the scoreboard; Skyler Shellmyer made it to first on a throwing error, then reached to third to put a runner in scoring position early. Rachel Lewis brought her teammate home with a triple off the center field wall, giving Northwestern the first run of the afternoon. Jordyn Rudd grounded out to score Lewis, and the Wildcats went up 2-0 just three batters into the game.
In the top of the third, though, Northwestern’s star pitcher began to struggle. Following a popout, Williams hit consecutive batters, who advanced to second and third, respectively, on a groundout. Williams then let a wild pitch get away from her, scoring a run. She walked another, and the Golden Grizzlies’ Jen Krizka singled down the right line to even the score at two.
Despite the game’s swinging momentum, Northwestern regained its lead in the bottom of the frame. Both Lewis and Rudd grounded out, but Nelson took Oakland pitcher Sydney Campbell yard with a solo homer to put the ‘Cats on top, 3-2. Northwestern extended its lead by one an inning later off an RBI single from first-year Grace Nieto.
Then came the thunder. The Wildcats absolutely lit up Campbell and the Grizzlies in a monstrous fifth inning run. Lewis and Rudd both singled, then Nelson demolished the second pitch she saw over the center field fence for her second homer of the day.
After Angela Zedak walked, Oakland made a pitching change, but it made no difference. The reliever allowed consecutive walks, then Nieto singled again to score both. With a chance to run-rule the Grizzlies, the ‘Cats were unable to get the elusive tenth run in the last two frames. Regardless, Williams allowed just one hit in the seventh, and Northwestern wrapped up a 9-2 defeat of Oakland in its first NCAA Tournament Regional matchup.
The Wildcats will play the McNeese Cowgirls Saturday at noon. If they win, the ‘Cats won’t play again until Sunday, but if they lose, they will take on the winner of Notre Dame and Oakland at 5 p.m. C.T.