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Rapid Reaction: Danielle Williams dominates, Northwestern holds off Eastern Illinois 2-0 in Evanston Regional opener

The Wildcats’ ace did ace things.

Danielle Williams pitches in Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament Regional game against Eastern Illinois University on May 19, 2023
Northwestern Softball/@NUSBcats

When the lights are at their brightest, Danielle Williams always delivers.

In the opening game of the NCAA Tournament Regional round, Northwestern (39-11, 20-3 B1G) defeated Eastern Illinois, 2-0. The Wildcats were led by Williams, who pitched a complete game shutout and struck out 10. Kansas Robinson drilled a homer for NU, and Hannah Cady also added an RBI.

Williams got the nod for the Wildcats, and No. 24 picked up exactly where she left off in Champaign. In the top of the first, the fifth-year sent the Panthers packing in order — striking out two.

In the bottom of the first, Skyler Shellmyer slapped a ball deep into the hole at shortstop, but hustled down the line to beat the throw and earn a leadoff single. Like she has all year, Shellmyer continued to be a threat on the bases — swiping second base. Jordyn Rudd dribbled a ball halfway down the third base line, but the ball died on the foul line, allowing everyone to reach base safely. With runners on the corners, Cady blooped one just over second base and into the infield, putting Northwestern ahead 1-0 through one.

Williams struck out the first batter of the second inning with an absolutely filthy changeup; however, the next two Panthers reached base and were threatening to tie the game. The runners did not faze the fifth-year, as she struck out the next two batters to end the frame. Of EIU’s six outs at that point, five were Ks. NU was unable to add to its lead in the bottom of the inning, keeping the score at 1-0.

In the top of the third inning, No. 24 surrendered a leadoff single, but the Panthers were unable to capitalize on the opportunity. Williams retired the next three batters, including an inning-ending strikeout. In the bottom of the frame, Kansas Robinson’s spectacular first year in purple and white continued. The first-year launched a 1-0 pitch over the center field wall for a solo shot, her seventh home run of the season, and pushed NU’s lead to 2-0. Northwestern almost went back-to-back, but Rudd’s long fly ball was tracked down at the warning track by EIU right fielder Morgan Lewis — holding the Wildcats’ lead at two through three.

Starting off the fourth, the Californian caught Panther first baseman Lindy Milkowski looking at strike three. The ensuing batter lofted a shallow fly ball to left field, but a sprinting Angela Zedak sprawled out to make the catch right before the ball hit the ground. A fly ball right to Shellmyer retired the side in order.

In the bottom of the inning, Maeve Nelson laid down a two-out bunt, which the pitcher did not field clearly, and reached first on an infield single. Following the fifth-year, the first-year Kelsey Nader bounced one to short, but EIU shortstop Briana Gonzalez couldn’t control the hop and threw it into right field — setting NU up with runners on the corners. Pinch-hitting for Grace Nieto, Kendall Peterson popped up to short for the third out, stranding two and leaving NU leading 2-0.

In the top of the fifth, EIU laid a bunt down right in front of the plate, but Rudd sprung up and fired a laser to first base to get out number one. An easy popup and Williams’ eighth K of the day — her ninth straight batter retired — sent the Panthers down 1-2-3. In the bottom of the frame, Rudd work a two-out, nine-pitch walk, but the Wildcats were unable to tack on any insurance runs, still clinging to a 2-0 lead after five innings.

Williams started off the sixth with her ninth strikeout of the day, followed by a liner hit directly at Shellmyer for a quick two outs. Nieto ranged to her glove’s side and fielded a hard chopper for the final out of the frame, sending the last 12 Panthers back to the dugout. The Wildcats offense was not any better, going down in order.

In the Panthers’ final chance, Williams slammed the door on any comeback opportunity. She forced an easy popout to shortstop, picked up her 10th strikeout of the game, and got a soft ground ball to first base for the final out of the game, giving Northwestern the 2-0 victory.

Northwestern will be back in action tomorrow when it takes on Kentucky at noon CT.