Softball: Freshmen help carry Wildcats to 7-2 start

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Softball: Freshmen help carry Wildcats to 7-2 start

A Northwestern player takes a hack. The Wildcats are 7-2 to start the season.

A Northwestern player takes a hack. The Wildcats are 7-2 to start the season.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

A Northwestern player takes a hack. The Wildcats are 7-2 to start the season.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

A Northwestern player takes a hack. The Wildcats are 7-2 to start the season.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Assistant Sports Editor

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Coming into this season, Northwestern knew it would have to replace four position player starters. The Wildcats’ deep freshman class has been up to the challenge so far.

Ranked as the ninth-best class in the country by FloSoftball, the freshmen have made an immediate impact in all phases of the game to help NU to a 7-2 start.

“It’s important for our freshmen to know that we don’t think of them as freshmen,” senior left fielder Morgan Nelson said before the season. “We have so much talent in that class. We’re really looking for them to step up.”

Freshman catcher Jordyn Rudd has replaced Sammy Nettling behind the plate and kicked off her collegiate career with a bang — literally. Rudd, the No. 45 overall recruit according to FloSoftball, hit a three-run double in her first at-bat of the year against Utah State, and then hit two home runs in her second game against Pacific.

Rudd batted .467 with 10 RBIs in the Cats’ first tournament of the year in Fullerton, California, after which she was named Big Ten Co-player of the Week. She is also tasked with handling a deep, talented staff that has pitched to a 1.79 ERA so far.

“They’re an awesome pitching staff and everyone is so different,” Rudd said after the Titan Classic in Fullerton. “I’ve learned quite a bit from this bunch, so it’s a lot of fun to catch all of them and grow with them.”

Designated hitter Nikki Cuchran is NU’s leading hitter, batting .423 after two weekends of play. Cuchran was the highest-rated recruit in the Cats’ freshman class, ranked No. 30, and hit .600 or above every year in high school. As a senior in high school, Cuchran hit .711 with 17 home runs and 86 RBIs.

While that power has yet to manifest itself at the college level, Cuchran has hit safely in every game but one, and she is currently riding a six-game hitting streak.

“We’re all going through the same thing; we’re all learning the ropes,” Cuchran said. “I knew my team was there cheering for me, and that made me feel a lot more comfortable in the box.”

Pitcher Danielle Williams has had the biggest impact among the freshmen. Williams, the 44th-best recruit nationally according to FloSoftball, was one out from a no-hitter in her first collegiate start against Pacific and ended up with a one-hit shutout. She followed that up with a two-hit shutout against Louisville the next day, striking out 13.

This past weekend at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Williams had two more complete-game wins — an eight-strikeout, no-walk performance in a 9-3 win over the Tar Heels and a seven-strikeout, one-walk effort in a 4-2 win over the Cardinals. She also has two wins in relief and is 6-0 on the season with a 0.81 ERA.

“It’s nice having a great defense behind me,” Williams said. “I’m able to trust my pitches more because I know they’re behind me. They trust me and I trust them.”

While Rudd, Cuchran and Williams have been the stars, other freshmen have also contributed to the Cats’ success. Skyler Shellmyer has been strong defensively in center field, and shortstop Maeve Nelson hit a go-ahead homer in extra innings to complete a comeback win over Louisville on Friday.

Coach Kate Drohan said the team’s returning players have welcomed the newcomers into the program and helped them build their confidence.

“I knew (the freshmen) had great talent, and I knew they loved the game,” Drohan said. “They’ve been very coachable and have a real love of Northwestern, so that makes it really fun.”

Email: benjaminrosenberg2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @bxrosenberg

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