EVANSTON, Ill. — The sun was shining bright for the ‘Cats at The J Sunday afternoon in the final game of the Evanston Regional, as Kate Drohan’s team defeated McNeese for the second time to advance to the Super Regional. Despite a rain-filled weekend peppered with delays, NU entered Sunday undefeated in NCAA play, having beaten Oakland 9-2 and run-ruling McNeese the day prior in a whopping 17-3 victory.
Northwestern’s senior southpaw Danielle Williams made the start for the ‘Cats in the circle for the third time this weekend.
NU started the series finale out strong in the first. Graduate student Rachel Lewis made a stellar catch, grabbing a foul ball up against the wall in right field before Williams retired two in a picture-perfect 1-2-3 inning. In the bottom of the first, Lewis and catcher Jordyn Rudd found themselves on first and second respectively after a fielder’s choice and base-hit single. After a wild pitch got away from McNeese’s catcher Chloe Gomez, the runners advanced. Maeve Nelson then came up big for the ‘Cats, driving Lewis home with a single up the middle. The ‘Cats ended the first with an early 1-0 lead over the Cowgirls.
Things looked promising for McNeese in the top of the second, but the ‘Cats’ defense held out. Left fielder Kaylee Lopez led off for the Cowgirls hitting a perfect base hit single over first. After another strikeout by Williams, Gomez singled to right center, advancing Lopez to second. Williams continued to pitch on her terms, striking out another to bring her total to four K’s through two innings. With runners in scoring position for the Cowgirls and two outs on the inning, senior Toni Perrin hit a single to left-center — the Cowgirls’ baserunning was too aggressive and Northwestern’s defense punished them for it. Center fielder Skyler Shellmyer launched a beautiful throw to Rudd, who tagged out Lopez at home to end the inning.
It remained quiet at The J until the bottom of the third. Shellmyer showed off her speed, leading off the inning with a single before stealing second. Lewis safely made it on base afterward, taking advantage of a wild pitch despite striking out. Rudd also showed up for the ‘Cats, hitting a massive double off the center-field wall, inches away from a home run. Her double brought Shellmyer and Lewis home, increasing the ‘Cats’ lead to three runs.
Next, pinch-runner Emmie Farnam was able to advance on another wild pitch by McNeese pitcher Whitney Tate and was ultimately brought home by a single to center field by first baseman Nikki Cuchran. Following a single by Angela Zedak down the left-field line to advance Cuchran, Hannah Cady grounded into a fielder’s choice with the Cowgirls choosing to throw out Cuchran at home. However, it didn’t stop the scoring for the ‘Cats as Sydney Supple batted in Zedak, tallying another run for Northwestern. Unfortunately, Cady was thrown out at third, ending NU’s four-run inning.
The ‘Cats faced a slight blip in the top of the fourth but quickly rebounded back on offense in the bottom. Northwestern quickly racked up an out on a great play by Nelson but Lopez came up big for the Cowgirls, hitting a double over the head of Shellmyer. After Williams hit one batter and allowed a single to center, bases were loaded for McNeese. Nonetheless, Northwestern was able to escape from the inning with only one run scored off of a single by Perrin.
In the bottom of the fourth, the ‘Cats’ bats got hot. First-year Grace Nieto started off the inning strong for Northwestern, singling up the left-field line and advancing to second on a throwing error. Shellmyer followed, hitting a double to left and advancing Nieto to third. Then, doing what she does best, Lewis continued the hot streak for the ‘Cats, hitting a massive three-run home run to bring the score to 8-1.
At that point, the inning was only just beginning for Northwestern with no outs tallied. Rudd kept it running with a walk, followed by a fielder’s choice for Nelson throwing Rudd out at second. Up next, Zedak approached the plate prepared to put the nail in McNeese’s coffin. The junior joined the Roof Club a monstrous home run onto the top of Welsh-Ryan Arena, becoming the tenth Wildcat to ever do so.
The Cowgirls tried to make a run in the top of the fifth but it was too little, too late. Talley started off the inning for McNeese with a double to left field, followed by a walk and a hit-by-pitch. With bases loaded, Lopez singled up the middle, allowing one to score. Unfazed by the run, Northwestern’s defense gathered itself for the final three outs of the game, with Williams striking out one, Rudd grabbing a foul pop up and Cuchran beating the runner to the base on a groundout. Their second run-rule victory of the weekend, the ‘Cats emerged flawless from the Evanston Regional with a 10-2 dub.
With the win, Northwestern will advance to the Super Regionals. If Arizona State emerges from the Tempe Regional tonight unscathed, the ‘Cats will travel to Arizona next weekend. If the Sun Devils do not advance, NU will host Super Regionals from The J for one final time this season. Either way, Kate Drohan’s ‘Cats are in for another weekend of softball in May — and there’s nothing better than that.