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Softball: Northwestern heads back to Evanston after strong weekend in OKC

The ‘Cats’ battery is good... Like really good.

Northwestern Softball/@nusbcats

Northwestern softball is back in Evanston on Tuesday as the ‘Cats open up their 2023 home schedule after a month of cross-country travel.

In the final stop on this month-long road trip, the Wildcats traveled to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — a place they hope to return to in June — for the OMNI Hall of Fame Classic. It was a fruitful weekend for NU, taking four of five games played, including two over a ranked opponent.

The Wildcats started the trip by defeating No. 19 Auburn 2-1 behind another complete game by Danielle Williams. From there, NU hit a snag, falling to No. 1 Oklahoma 2-1, but got right back on track with a 4-0 victory over Weber State.

NU needed a little magic to end the weekend, and the cardiac ‘Cats decided to make the trek down to the Sooner State. After trailing Auburn 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh, Jordyn Rudd launched a two-run blast over the right field fence for a 6-5 walk-off win.

Not to be topped, the ‘Cats were trailing 4-0 to Weber State on Sunday and were down to their final out; however, they strung together multiple baserunners and rallied six runs, capped off by a bases-clearing double by Rudd, to secure a 6-4 victory and head to their home opener five games over .500.

Before NU takes the diamond for the first time at home, here are the takeaways from, hopefully, the Wildcats’ first trip to OKC.

Danielle Williams has found her groove and is as dominant as ever

It was a slow start to the 2023 season for the fifth-year and reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year; however, No. 24 looks raring to go as NU heads into conference play.

Williams mowed down batters all weekend in OKC, making it much easier for a sluggish NU offense. In her first start against the Tigers, Williams tossed her third complete game of the season and allowed one run, her third straight start and fifth straight appearance with one or fewer earned run, She added seven more strikeouts to her total and only walked one, shutting down an Auburn offense that averages 6.45 runs a game.

As if that was not a dominant enough performance by the fifth year, she outdid herself a day later. Williams was back in the circle the next day against Weber State and picked up right where she had left off. While the Californian did not go the distance, only throwing 5.2 innings, she left batters puzzled at the plate. The ‘Cats’ ace racked up 10 strikeouts, her season-high and the most since May 12, 2022. She gave up three hits but held Weber State off the board as NU cruised to a shutout win.

William's 17 strikeouts and 0.55 ERA over the weekend earned her Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors, the 10th time she has won the award in her career. As Northwestern begins Big Ten competition, expect the Northwestern to turn the ball to its ace often.

Jordyn Rudd is Northwestern’s most valuable player

There are no other words to describe Jordyn Rudd’s play other than immaculate. Whether it is behind the dish or in the batter's box, the fifth-year has done everything Kate Drohan has asked of her, and the past weekend was no different.

Rudd continues to be the ‘Cats’ main source of offensive production and an RBI machine. She collected five hits in Oklahoma City, making her the first Wildcat to break 20 hits on the season. She added five RBIs as well, and arguably the biggest runs batted in of the entire trip.

Rudd has constantly delivered in the clutch the entire season, and her two-run, walk-off homer against Auburn was no different. The ‘Cats’ backstop sat on a 2-1 pitch and drilled it over the right-field wall for the win, yet that was not No. 36’s best swing of the weekend. After Northwestern rallied to score three runs with one out remaining against Weber State, Rudd stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and delivered for NU once again. The Indiana native ripped a ball into the gap in left field for a bases-clearing double to give the Wildcats a 6-4 lead. In addition to fueling the purple-and-white win, the double moved Rudd into fifth all-time in program history for RBIs.

On the defensive side, Rudd has been a steady presence for the ‘Cats’ pitching staff and Coach Drohan. Rudd has caught 50% of baserunners trying to swipe an extra base so far this season and recorded a season-high ten putouts against Auburn this weekend. Furthermore, the Wildcats have a 2.96 team ERA, as Rudd’s experience behind the dish has alleviated the pressure on the pitcher in the circle. It is hard to argue Danielle Williams' importance to this squad, but No. 36 has played a larger role in NU’s early success in 2023.

Skyler Shellmyer looks like her 2022 self

Much like her fellow fifth-year Williams, it was a slow start to the season for Shellmyer; yet, she looked the best she has this year in OKC. The center fielder, who batted .346 last season, picked up three hits over the weekend after being held hitless in the Cardinal Classic. Additionally, the fifth-year, who stole 22 bases last year, had only swiped two bags in 2023 until she snuck by four times this weekend, including two in a single game.

With her ability to get on base and grab an extra bag, Shellmyer makes Rudd’s and Northwestern’s other power hitters’ jobs much easier. If she continues to improve and creep closer to her 2022 numbers, the top of NU’s lineup is one of the most dangerous in the nation.

Northwestern is back in action Tuesday at Sharon J. Drysdale Field against UIC at 3 p.m. CT.