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Rapid Reaction: Arizona State outduels Northwestern, forces game three of Super Regionals

A series this good just had to go three games.

By throwing 300 pitches in just over 24 hours, Danielle Williams had already defied contemporary theory about fatigue and sustained dominance. But even the unanimous Big Ten Pitcher of the Year may, in fact, tire.

In a zany, extra-inning game two in Tempe, Ariz., Arizona State finally got to Williams, scoring four in the first five innings and blowing the game open in the eighth after the pesky Wildcats battled their way back again to beat Northwestern 7-4 in extras. Jazmine Hill paced the Sun Devils with four RBIs, powering the home squad to a do-or-die game three on Sunday.

After a leadoff walk by Alynah Torres and a hit by pitch by Yannira Acuña, Kate Drohan made an early mound visit to Williams. In playing a flyout by Cyd Sanders, Rachel Lewis airmailed a throw to Nikki Cuchran, allowing Torres and Acuña to advance. The Sun Devils proceeded to take a 1-0 lead via an RBI single by Hill, though the score stayed there courtesy of Angela Zedak nabbing Acuña at home.

The Wildcats had a chance to respond in the bottom of the first against Allison Royalty, but their baserunning miscues from earlier in the series continued. After a Skyler Shellmyer leadoff walk, the leadoff hitter stole second on a Rachel Lewis strikeout. Yet, on a Jordyn Rudd grounder to third, Arizona State third baseman Bella Loomis fielded the ball around third and caught Shellmyer in a pickle before doubling up Rudd at second to end the inning.

Williams responded nicely in the second, working around a two-out single from Jessica Puk to keep the Sun Devils at one run.

In the bottom of the second, Northwestern rallied. Maeve Nelson drew a walk, and Cuchran blooped a single into left field to make it two on, nobody out. Subsequent to a walk from Zedak, Royalty struck out Hannah Cady and Sydney Supple. Then, with two outs, first-year phenom Grace Nieto beat out a grounder to Royalty as the Wildcats knotted things at 1-1.

To start the third, Shellmyer made a shoestring catch in center to rob Torres of a single. Williams then got a pop out from Acuña and a groundout from Sanders for her first 1-2-3 inning of the game.

Rudd laced a ball inside the left field line to lead off the bottom of the third with a double, prompting ASU head coach Trisha Ford to bring in reliever Lindsay Lopez. The lefty punched out Nelson on a riseball and retired Cuchran on a one-pitch slow roller to first, and the game remained tied.

To lead off the fourth for Arizona State, Hill raced to first on a ground ball to second. Following a popout from Makenna Harper, Nelson’s throw over to first on a Jazmyn Rollin grounder was low, leading to second and third with one out for the Sun Devils. But Williams remained unfazed, getting a fielder’s choice from Savannah Price and a flyout from Puk to escape the jam.

Lopez was a force in the fourth, striking out the first two NU batters. Sydney Supple reached on a two-out base on balls in the bottom of the inning, but Lopez struck out Nieto for her third K of the frame.

With one out in the fifth, Torres notched her first hit of the ballgame. After a fielder’s choice to Acuña, Sanders drew a walk. That set up an RBI opportunity to Hill, and the ASU center fielder didn’t miss her pitch. Hill catapulted a ball way over the left field wall to give Arizona State a 4-1 lead. Williams’ night was over — or so it seemed — following a free pass to Harper, but reliever Lauren Dvorak closed the inning effectively.

The Cardiac ‘Cats returned to form in the bottom of the inning, of course, to bring the ASU lead back to one. With one out, Lewis walked, and Rudd drove a ball into right center for a double. Lewis came all the way around from first to score, cutting the ASU lead to 4-2. Then, Nelson drove in pinch-runner Ayanna Lindsey on an opposite-field single, making it 4-3. NU’s rally momentarily halted there, though, as Lopez induced flyouts from Cuchran and Zedak.

Dvorak had a strong top of the sixth, keeping Puk on second despite a near collision on a fly ball between Shellmyer and Nelson.

Cady tried to get the sixth started in fast fashion, reaching on a bunt. However, her bunt was waved off, with the umpires declaring her front foot had ventured too far out of the batter’s box. The third baseman ultimately lined out to third before Supple and pinch-hitter Lauren Caldrone struck out swinging for Lopez’s fifth and sixth punchouts of the night.

The Sun Devils threatened in the top of the seventh, but Dvorak got two straight outs to end the inning, holding runners on first and second and keep it 4-3.

The Wildcats had exactly who they wanted up with their last licks: Shellmyer, Lewis and Rudd. Shellmyer led off the seventh with a scorched liner that was snared by Sanders at first. After battling in a lengthy at-bat, Lopez struck out Lewis looking on a curveball.

Rudd kept NU’s rally alive with a two-out single to left, and that was all Nelson needed. The shortstop hit a deep drive into center, but Hill misplayed it. The ball caromed off the top of the wall, allowing Rudd to score and tie the game at 4-4. With Nelson at third, Cuchran lofted a fly ball into center field that Hill caught, sending the game to extras.

Dvorak remained in the circle to start the eighth. After a flyout for pinch-hitter Mailey McLemore, Puk ripped a double to left. Puk stopped at third following a single for Kristiana Watson, and Drohan had seen enough: the Northwestern head coach gave the ball back to Williams.

On her first pitch of the eighth, Williams got Torres to ground to Nelson at short. On a diving play, Nelson heaved the ball home, but it reached Rudd on one hop, enabling Puk to score and give ASU a 5-4 advantage.

Acuña promptly responded with a double into left center, bringing in another run for the Sun Devils. With the bases loaded, Williams struck out Hill but walked Harper, making it 7-4 ASU.

In the bottom of the eighth, Zedak and Cady struck out looking, and Supple lined to Lopez to end the game and give Arizona State the dramatic victory.

Game three of the must-watch duel between the Wildcats and Sun Devils — with a trip to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series on the line — is set for Sunday at 8:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU.