In a battle between two all-time great college pitchers, Danielle Williams and Montana Fouts, Northwestern’s star shined brighter.
The graduate student fired a masterful complete game to spearhead a 3-1 victory for NU (42-11, 20-3 B1G) over no. 5 seed Alabama (43-20, 14-10 SEC). It puts the ‘Cats just one win away from a second consecutive trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
On 122 pitches — a season-high — Williams surrendered one run and six hits. Kelsey Nader went 2-for-2 with a run, a walk and an RBI, while Jordyn Rudd enjoyed a 2-for-4 day which featured an RBI. Angela Zedak also crushed a solo home run.
Fouts — who hadn’t been in the circle for Alabama since May 11 — was first to take the mound, and worked a one-two-three first inning. Fouts struck out freshman Kansas Robinson, and didn’t surrender any strong contact. After 11 pitches from her, Alabama came up to the plate.
Danielle Williams got off to a good start herself, just with a hiccup in the process. After forcing Crimson Tide left fielder Jenna Johnson to pop out to short, Williams worked herself into a full count against Ashley Prange, who nailed a double to the left-center wall.
Not letting the nervy start get to her, the grad student grabbed her first strikeout via a nasty sinker against Ally Shipman. And why fix a machine that’s not broken? Williams got Bailey Dowling to strike out with another tough sinker, bringing the first inning to a close.
Fouts retired Cady and Cuchran, but Angela Zedak — hitting out of the six-hole — smashed a home run over the center field wall to the elation of the many purple and white faithful who packed the Tuscaloosa stands. After a Maeve Nelson groundout, the ‘Cats headed into the bottom of the second up 1-0.
To kick off the bottom half of the frame, Williams notched her third straight strikeout — this time against Kali Heivilin. The Crimson Tide’s Larissa Preuitt was thrown out on a bunt on the first pitch of her at-bat.
On a full count — with the chance to finish the second at stake — Williams couldn’t quite get it done, as Emma Broadfoot nailed a line drive up the middle for a single. And with a little room to breathe, Alabama started its rally. Shortstop Kenleigh Cahalan sent a ball flying into right field, advancing Broadfoot to third.
Head coach Kate Drohan came out for a visit to the circle, trying to calm Williams and the rest of the infield.
Whatever Drohan said in the huddle wasn’t as effective as she might’ve hoped. Williams walked Kristen White on four straight balls, loading the bases with two outs. Luckily, on a 2-2 count, Johnson sent one deep to center... right into the glove of Shellmyer, who was waiting for the ball near the warning track.
Kelsey Nader opened action for NU in the third, lining one through the second base gap. On what was a should-be sacrifice bunt from Grace Nieto, Broadfoot made a bad throw to first, allowing Nieto to reach first and Nader to get all the way to third.
With runners in scoring position, Shellmyer went to work against Fouts, nailing foul after foul. Then, she het a dribbler up the third base line, which Prange chose to hold onto. Just like that, the bases were loaded.
After striking out Robinson for Alabama’s first out, a challenging ground ball courtesy of Rudd forced the Tide into a bang-bang play. Nader’s speedy baserunning earned NU a run and no outs on the play.
Fortune turned the other way the very next at-bat, as Cady hit a ball right to Alabama’s ace, who initiated a double play: Fouts to Shipman at home and Shipman to Broadfoot at first. Heading into the bottom of the third, the ‘Cats led, 2-0.
Trying to kickstart Alabama’s offense, Prange smashed a deep single to left in her at-bat. The knock was to no avail, as the Crimson Tide’s Shipman, Dowling and Heivilin tacked up consecutive outs, extinguishing the team’s short-lived spark.
The fourth got underway with dramatics. In a play that had her throwing her frustrated arms in the air, Fouts sailed a routine ground ball from Cuchran over Broadfoot’s outstretched arm.
Then, the inning really got interesting. Ayana Lindsey stepped in as a pinch runner, but was tagged out sprinting to third on a fielder’s choice from Zedak. Nelson walked to move her to second. And next thing you know, Nader hit a first-pitch single that drove Zedak in and advanced Nelson to third.
That was enough for Alabama coach Patrick Murphy to pull his star pitcher, inserting Jaala Torrence in her place. The switch was a wise one, as Torrence flexed a strike out and a groundout on consecutive hitters, getting Alabama out of the inning relatively unharmed, down only 3-0.
The Crimson Tide had plans on offense of their own, though. Williams struck out her first batter faced. She hit Preuitt, putting a runner on first. Then, No. 24 got another one swinging. Sounds good, right? Enter: Kristen White.
With two outs, White hit an inconspicuous ground ball to Cuchran at first. The ball rolled through her legs, letting White reach first. More importantly — and unnoticed by the ‘Cats — Broadfoot, who was pinch-running for Preuitt, was rounding the bases. By the time Broadfoot was halfway down the third base line, it was too late for Northwestern. NU got out of the inning on the next batter, but Alabama had narrowed the purple’s lead, 3-1.
Robinson helped the Wildcats right the ship, hitting a solid single to right field. On NU’s next at-bat, Rudd popped out to second. Cady couldn’t get anything going, either, striking out swinging. Cuchran, on the first pitch of her plate appearance, hit a simple grounder to short, ending the inning for Northwestern and giving the Tide the chance to cut its deficit yet again.
After notching her fifth K of the day, Williams let up a single to Shipman. And perhaps the defensive highlight of the day came when Cady, from third base, nabbed a laser off the bat of Dowling and fired a missile across the diamond to catch a retreating Shipman at first — good for an inning-ending double play.
With the ‘Cats back at the plate, Zedak popped out to second and Nelson grounded out to third. Even though Nader walked on a five-pitch at-bat, Nieto grounded out to short. It was a half-inning marked by fielding practice for the Alabama infield and uneventful contact from the Northwestern hitters.
Williams assumed the circle, striking out Heivlin on her 99th pitch of the day. Preuitt didn’t have much more success, making contact on a slow grounder to first that Cuchran had no issue corralling for NU’s second out. Much to the dismay of the ‘Cats’ fans in attendance, Williams didn’t get the strike out call on her third batter of the inning. Luckily, Cady engulfed her second line drive of the day, ending the inning.
Heading into the final six outs of the night, Northwestern led, 3-1.
In the Wildcats’ last chance to extend their lead, they came up with nothing. Committing softball’s cardinal sin, Shellmyer struck out looking. Robinson flied out to to left field. On a full count that included a few foul balls, Rudd singled to left. Then, Cady excitedly took a ball to the bicep in the first pitch of her at-bat, filling up the first two bags for NU. Still, Cuchran grounded out, ending Northwestern’s last-second run.
In its final exhale, Alabama couldn’t get anything done. Cahalan hit a scary, but harmless moonshot to the left field warning track that was caught by Zedak. On White’s at-bat, a first-pitch bunt attempt popped a ball right into Williams’ mit. And for the final act, a groundout taken care of by Cady. A 1-2-3 inning to win a super regional game against the No. 5 seed. Cold. Blooded.
Game Two is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT on Saturday. You can catch the action on ESPN.