2022 Northwestern Softball is the team of destiny.
Three games. Three comebacks. And, best of all, two wins in the most exciting Super Regional of the NCAA Tournament. For the first time since 2007, Kate Drohan’s Wildcats are headed to Oklahoma City, and it feels oh so good.
The No. 9 Wildcats’ comeback was fueled by monstrous games at the plate from Jordyn Rudd and Maeve Nelson. Rudd went 4-for-5 from the field, notching three RBIs and continuing her postseason hot streak, where she is now batting an average of over .600. Nelson hit 3-for-4 directly behind Rudd, helping provide the juice at crucial parts of the game.
If she didn’t already prove she was superhuman in the first two games of the series, Danielle Williams did it again. After throwing 299 pitches across Friday and Saturday, she delivered a performance for the ages, starting cold but becoming virtually unstoppable down the stretch. Williams earned seven strikeouts and only seemed to get better as the game went on. With 130 pitches thrown Sunday, the ace took her weekend total to 429 pitches.
The ‘Cats opened the game with chances to score early but couldn’t capitalize with runners on second and third. This failure to take the early lead immediately came back to bite Northwestern, as Williams began her day about as rough as she possibly could.
Just four pitches into the inning, Arizona State’s Alynah Torres took Williams to the wall, the fifth home run Williams allowed in the series. On the very next pitch, Yanni Acuña hit a double to deep right, and the next batter walked. After a trio of hitters, Williams allowed all three to reach base. Despite the trouble, the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year retired the next three batters to escape the inning with just one earned run.
The Sun Devils extended their lead in the bottom of the third. Williams allowed a single to the inning’s leadoff batter, then hit Cydney Sanders on the arm to put runners on first and second. Following a run-scoring single, Emily Cazares sent a three-run homer over the back fence to give Arizona State the 5-0 advantage, the largest lead by either team in the series. The home run would be the Sun Devils’ final hit until the seventh inning.
After numerous opportunities with runners in scoring position, Northwestern finally took over in the fourth. Angela Zedak and Hannah Cady singled as the first two batters, then the combination of a Lauren Caldrone single and an error by the second baseman sent both runners home with no outs. A single and a walk from Skyler Shellmyer and Rachel Lewis, respectfully, loaded the bases for Rudd.
Rudd delivered, hammering a shot out to left field to score the two and cut the deficit to one, forcing a Sun Devil pitching change. Nelson walked to put runners on all three bases with just one out and several chances for the Wildcats to tie or take the lead. However, both Nikki Cuchran and Zedak struck out swinging, stranding three runners and keeping the difference at a single run.
Despite the lost opportunity, the ‘Cats wouldn’t remain down for long. Cady led off the fifth inning to tie the game for the first time, completely erasing the 5-0 deficit. When the Sun Devils came back up to bat, Williams maintained Northwestern’s momentum by shutting down the batters. The star pitcher retired all three players she faced, two of which were on strikeouts, to hand things back over to the offense.
Northwestern finally took the lead in the sixth; Rudd continued her incredible game with a deep double, then Nelson lined a hit between first and second to send her teammate around the bases. The outfielder fumbled trying to scoop up the rolling ball, and Rudd turned the corner to come home and put the ‘Cats on top.
With one final chance to add to the lead before turning it over to Arizona State, the Wildcats decided they weren’t done yet. Grace Nieto occupied first before three consecutive singles from Shellmyer, Lewis and Rudd scored two more runs. Heading into the bottom of the frame, the ‘Cats led 8-5.
Although the Sun Devils scored one and had two runners in scoring position in the final half-inning, the Wildcats were able to hold onto their lead and advance to the program’s first Women’s College World Series in 15 years. Williams finished the game hot, retiring ten of her last thirteen batters. After allowing the three-run homer in the third inning, Williams turned her performance completely around, allowing just one hit over the remainder of the game.
Northwestern will head to Oklahoma City to take on the No. 1 Sooners on Thursday, June 2 at 1:30 CST on ESPN.