The No. 9 ‘Cats took full advantage of their last weekend at The J, crushing their competition to go 3-0 in the Evanston Regional and advancing through the double-elimination bracket.
Northwestern took on Oakland in the first round, showing no mercy. The ‘Cats put runs up on the board from the get-go, with slugger Rachel Lewis hitting an RBI triple and catcher Jordyn Rudd bringing her home on an RBI groundout in the bottom of the first inning.
Oakland tied things up in the top of the third after a shaky sequence for star pitcher Danielle Williams. After hitting two batters, the senior allowed a single down the rightfield line that brought in two RBIs to even the score going into the bottom of the third.
Nevertheless, the ‘Cats ran away with it in the fifth with a three-RBI homer for Maeve Nelson — her second of the day — and another RBI single for first-year Grace Nieto, with two scoring thanks to a throwing error by the Grizzlies. Despite a tough third inning, Williams had a stellar outing for the ‘Cats with eight strikeouts and only four hits, sealing the 9-2 victory.
Northwestern took on McNeese in the winners’ bracket on Saturday. Despite run-ruling Notre Dame the day prior, the Cowgirls were no match for the slugging bats of the ‘Cats, as Northwestern won by run-rule, 17-3, in five innings.
Senior Skyler Shellmyer started the game off strong, singling to third and stealing second. She was brought home on a single by Rudd to give the ‘Cats the headstart with a 1-0 lead.
In the top of the second, left fielder Angela Zedak reached on a dropped fly ball to right-field, enabling her to advance all the way to third. Hannah Cady hit a groundout RBI to bring the junior home while Nieto and Shellmyer kept the ball rolling on two base-hit singles, putting them at third and second respectively. Northwestern remained aggressive on the basepath with Nieto scoring on a wild pitch and Shellmyer later stealing home. The ‘Cats scored two more in the third, thanks to a Nikki Cuchran solo shot and doubles from Cady and Sydney Supple.
After McNeese brought home three in the bottom of the third, Northwestern came back with a vengeance, recording a nine-run inning in the top of the fourth. With the top of the lineup up, Shellmyer singled to third and showed off her speed stealing second. Rudd hit a two-RBI homer to left field followed by a Cady two-RBI single, with a third scoring on a fielding error by McNeese’s catcher. Supple continued the run, hitting a single to bring Cady home. Nieto and Shellmyer successfully made it on base before Lewis batted in two on a double down the left-field line. Northwestern tallied one more on a sacrifice fly by Rudd before the action-packed inning came to an end.
The fifth couldn’t come fast enough for the run rule to come into effect, but the ‘Cats took advantage of every opportunity for more at-bats. First-year Ayana Lindsey came in to pinch-hit, and she knew just what to do in her first-ever NCAA Tournament plate appearance, hitting a monstrous two-RBI homer to round out scoring for the day, sending the ‘Cats to the championship game. The win also marked the Drohan sisters’ 700th win with the program, a milestone few coaches earn in their own NCAA Regional.
McNeese won its second Saturday contest though, beating ND for a second time, and faced the ‘Cats again on Sunday. However, NU saw the end in sight and showed no mercy. Per usual, Shellmyer started it off strong, reaching on a single to second base. The ‘Cats were able to put one up on the board on a single by Nelson, ending the inning with a 1-0 lead.
The game remained actionless until the bottom of the third with the top of the lineup back up for the ‘Cats, putting up four runs in the inning off a two-RBI double by Rudd. The Cowgirls were able to score a run in the top of the fourth but the ‘Cats showed they wanted it more. Northwestern retaliated with five runs in the bottom of the fourth on a three-RBI homer by Lewis and a two-RBI homer by Zedak, which earned her a spot in the coveted Roof Club. Northwestern’s defense clinched it in the top of the fifth, concluding the game in a run-rule victory.
Naming an MVP on the weekend for the ‘Cats is extremely difficult given the impact so many players had. Nieto led the team with a .714 batting average, Shellmyer went 7-for-7 against McNeese with six runs scored and four stolen bases, Nelson hit two home runs and recorded five RBIs on the weekend, Williams tallied three wins and 18 strikeouts and Lewis went out with a bang, with her final at-bat at The J a three-run homer off Welsh-Ryan.
And now off to Tempe. The ‘Cats will head to Arizona this weekend to face No. 8 Arizona State in a best-of-three series in the Super Regional. Arizona State went 3-0 in their Regional, defeating Cal State Fullerton and San Diego State, and then defeating SDSU again in the championship game 8-4 to emerge unscathed.
True freshman pitcher Mac Morgan made the start for the Sun Devils in the opening game and the series finale. Morgan pitched two complete games with a total of nine strikeouts and six runs allowed on the weekend. These two wins brought her record to 18-3 on the season and her ERA to 2.73. The Sun Devils rely much more on their rotation of pitchers than Northwestern does, which could be important if the series extends to game three.
Offensively, Cydney Sanders is a force to be reckoned with. The first baseman holds a .424 batting average on the season with a total of 21 home runs — tieing Big Ten home run leader Lewis — and 63 RBIs. This past weekend in the Tempe Regional, Sanders hit a two-RBI homer, two singles, a double and was walked four times.
If the ‘Cats can make it out of Tempe, they will move on to the Women’s College World Series. It’s a long way to the National Championship, but Kate Drohan’s team is taking it one step at a time, and they look scary doing it.