What a run it was.
No. 9 Northwestern Softball (45-13) dropped its second game of the Women’s College World Series to No. 5 UCLA (49-9) Friday night, sending the ‘Cats back to Evanston just in time for finals week. The 6-1 loss came after an electrifying Super Regional victory lifted NU to Oklahoma City for the first time in 15 years on the backs of now-Northwestern great Rachel Lewis and ace Danielle Williams in the circle.
Unfortunately, though, the night belonged to UCLA’s ace Megan Faraimo, who shone on the mound and in the box. The pitcher struck out 10 batters and hit a clutch home run in the 6th inning to increase the Bruins’ lead. Williams hung with Faraimo for a time, but crucial fielding errors and six runners left on base eventually solidified the ‘Cats' demise.
With the season on the line, Kate Drohan turned to Williams to keep the team alive after a rough start against No. 1 Oklahoma on Thursday. Whether it was shaken confidence after yesterday’s defeat or just a slow warm-up, the ‘Cats had a tough first inning yet again. Williams walked her first batter faced, and after a sacrifice bunt was laid down, the runner was already in scoring position for UCLA.
Slugger Delanie Wisz took advantage of the situation, hitting an RBI single to drive in the runner and put one on the board for UCLA early. Luckily, the ‘Cats were able to escape the inning with no further damage done, but the early run for the Bruins meant they would have to fight from behind.
Things remained quiet on both sides of the plate through three due to the dominance of both pitchers. Williams tallied four Ks through three innings — digging herself out of trouble with two on base and two outs at the top of the third — while UCLA’s Faraimo also recorded four strikeouts.
In the top of the fourth, the Bruins got the ball rolling again. After two singles and a walk, bases were loaded for UCLA with only one out. What could have been a popup to tally the second out turned into a miscommunication error as left fielder Angela Zedak botched a catch after calling shortstop Maeve Nelson off. The ‘Cats retired the next two batters on a foul out and strikeout to keep the deficit to just two runs.
Then, Northwestern came alive when it needed it most. Zedak led off for the ‘Cats, successfully getting on base on a single to center field. Cady followed up, staying patient and disciplined in her at-bat to draw a walk, giving the ‘Cats a runner in scoring position for the first time.
With two outs on the board, first-year Grace Nieto came up big. She doubled down the left-field line, batting in Zedak to bring the ‘Cats within one.
BOOM. Grace Nieto— Northwestern Softball (@NUSBcats) June 4, 2022
RBI-double down the line makes it a one-run ballgame! pic.twitter.com/r1K9s2cG0h
Shellmyer drew the walk to load the bases for Big Ten Player of the Year Lewis. Lewis locked out Faraimo at first, going up 3-0 on the count. But, the pitcher came back with a vengeance, throwing three straight strikes to get the K.
Faraimo apparently hadn’t quite settled down from striking out Lewis. Starting off the inning for the Bruins, she went after the first pitch and crushed a homer to left field to reset UCLA’s lead back to two. However, the ‘Cats showed the Bruins it wasn’t going to come easy. Northwestern concluded the inning with Rudd doing what she does best — throwing out a runner attempting to steal second — while Williams struck out the final batter.
Nonetheless, the Bruins ran away with it in the top of the seventh. After a single and a double put batters on second and third, Williams allowed another RBI single to bring the score up to 4-1 for the Bruins.
It didn’t stop there. A sacrifice bunt allowed yet another to score for the UCLA squad, extending their lead by four. The ‘Cats allowed one more run to score before the inning ended, but Rudd finished it off by throwing out another runner attempting to steal second.
Despite a late effort by Zedak, who lead off the seventh with a single to deep center, Faraimo got the best of the ‘Cats. The UCLA pitcher retired the next two batters on strikeouts, to bring her total up to 10 Ks. Shellmyer recorded the final out, hitting the ball right back to the circle on a groundout.
Northwestern’s run comes to an end after one of the best seasons in program history. It’s difficult to admit, but all we can say is “see you next year, OKC.” We have a feeling the ‘Cats will be back.