Throughout the 2022 season, the ‘Cats have seen a variety of players step up in desperate times to lead the team to victory. If you’ve watched enough Northwestern softball, it’s evident the team builds off each other and knows how to bring it at the plate in game-changing moments.
Kate Drohan’s squad took this mentality to new heights last weekend in a marathon series that will go down as one of the best Super Regionals in the history of the NCAA Tournament. As Northwestern repeatedly rallied back to defeat Arizona in both games one and three (and almost two), a load of ‘Cats filled the scoresheet — and not just usual suspects Danielle Williams and Rachel Lewis. Let’s take a look at the most impactful players from NU’s Super Regional dub.
Catcher Jordyn Rudd was a superstar this past weekend. When the ‘Cats were struggling against ASU’s pitching staff, Rudd showed her team it was no different than a game at The J. She tallied the first hit of the series for the ‘Cats and concluded game one going 2-5 at the plate. In game two, Rudd hit 3-4 with an RBI double.
She showed she could do even better, coming alive in game three to seal the deal for the ‘Cats. She batted 4-5 in the final game, tallying three RBIs on two singles, narrowing the Sun Devil lead to one and finishing it off on the second hit to bring in Northwestern’s final run. Behind the plate, Rudd made it clear she was a force to be reckoned with and only allowed one stolen base the whole weekend. The senior laid it all on the line, including diving for a foul pop-up for one of the final outs of the game.
If you have watched enough of senior Maeve Nelson this season, you know she plays with swag and was built for moments like these. The shortstop had a phenomenal weekend defensively and at the plate, batting 5-10 on the weekend with two RBIs and two walks. Nelson batted in the go-ahead run in game three, sparking a hitting spree from the ‘Cats to pad their lead and ultimately punch their ticket to OKC for the Women’s College World Series. Nelson has a flair for drama in the best way, and she showed her prowess with clutch at-bats and defensive play in Tempe.
There are no Cardiac ‘Cats without Cardiac Cady. Some might have even spoken sophomore Hannah Cady’s massive batting presence into existence this postseason, and let’s just say we are glad they did. Despite coming into the season with a little bit of rust needing to be brushed off, Cady made steady improvement all throughout B1G play and has shown she is ready for the big stage.
While her hits were not constant throughout the weekend, they were big and they were clutch. In game one, Cady had just one hit. This one hit, though, came in the top of the seventh and was a monstrous home run, extending the game into extra innings and fueling the ‘Cats to prevail. In game three, she showed that she could do it again. After trailing five runs through three innings, the ‘Cats made a run and Cady decided that her teammates’ efforts would not go down in vain, hitting yet another massive homer to tie the game. Both of her tying solo shots greatly swayed each game toward the ‘Cats. Additionally, she let nothing go by her down the third baseline, making incredible defensive stops to ensure no extra ASU runners scored. Best of all, Cady grabbed the final out of the series on a foul pop-up, advancing Northwestern to the WCWS.
We said it wasn’t just Lewis and Williams, but we can’t leave either of them out. Star slugger and Big Ten Player of the Year Lewis had quite the atypical weekend. The graduate student went just 2-11 at the plate and struck out three times, a surprising feat given that she has more walks than strikeouts in her career. However, one of her mere two hits came at the right moment for the ‘Cats and drastically changed the outcome of game one. In the bottom of the sixth, down 3-0, with the NU failing to heat up, Lewis smashed a two-RBI homer over the heads of the Sun Devils to narrow ASU’s lead to one. Her at-bat greatly shifted the momentum in the favor of Northwestern, and they ended up prevailing in an 11-inning victory. Most importantly, Coach Drohan later stated that Lewis’ home run convinced her to keep Williams in the circle rather than pulling her and saving her arm for game two — a decision that shut out the Sun Devils in the end to give NU the win. Even on her off-days, the impact Lewis has on this group of ‘Cats is invaluable.
Last, but certainly not least, the MVP of the weekend. If we learned anything from the series, it is that Williams is superhuman. The southpaw pitcher made every start in the three-game series, pitching a total of 23.1 innings and 430 pitches (the fact that her arm did not fall off is shocking, please someone check on it). Additionally, she tallied 19 strikeouts.
Typically, opponents adjust to pitchers after facing them repeatedly, yet ASU couldn’t seem to get the hang of Williams as she demonstrated the wide range of pitches she holds in her arsenal and her ability to read batters. Even when Williams dug herself into a little bit of a hole, she managed to stay collected and climb right back out — and with a smile on her face. Unfortunately, Williams wasn’t named USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year after being named a finalist, but after the performance she had this weekend, we aren’t entirely sure what else there is left for her to do to prove she’s one of the best athletes, not just softball players, in the country. The only other thing we can think of is maybe taking down recipient Jocelyn Alo and her No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners this Thursday in game two of the WCWS double-elimination round.
While the listed names above were certainly important for the ‘Cats' success this past weekend, each and every member of Drohan’s dugout played a vital role in the series, and they will only continue to be called on as their journey carries on in OKC.