Softball: Northwestern looks to complete sixth straight sweep of the season


Daily file photo by Andrew Golden

Danielle Williams stands at the mound. The freshman was named a finalist for the USA Softball Player of the Year award this week.

Andrew Golden, Web Editor

As Northwestern heads to East Lansing for its weekend series against Michigan State, the Wildcats are in the midst of one of the greatest stretches in program history.

NU (37-7, 17-0) enters this weekend at the top of the Big Ten standings at 17-0 on a 16-game winning streak, its longest since 1985 — and this year’s freshman class has been an integral part of the team’s success.

The Wildcats’ eight-player 2018 recruiting class has been headlined by freshman ace Danielle Williams, who was named a USA Softball Player of the Year finalist Wednesday. Williams has been dominant all season, going 25-3 with a 1.25 ERA and 237 strikeouts. While raving about how great a ballplayer Williams is, coach Kate Drohan said the nomination is about more than just one person.

“You can look at Danielle’s numbers and look at her shutouts and her strikeouts and all that stuff, but it takes a team to do that,” Drohan said. “When I think about a player being singled out like that, I think that’s a team nod and a team recognition.”

Drohan said fellow freshman catcher Jordyn Rudd has been “working her tail off” behind the plate the whole season, in tandem with Williams. Rudd’s impact has reached further than just behind the plate — she leads the team with a .341 batting average. Fellow rookies Nikki Cuchran and Maeve Nelson join her as three of NU’s top four leaders in average.

In Tuesday’s doubleheader against Illinois, the freshmen took over the games with their power. Cuchran, Rudd and Williams all hit home runs, with Rudd driving in all four runs in the Cats’ second game on a grand slam.

While many factors have contributed to the freshmen’s success, Drohan cited their competitiveness, their investment in learning and their ability to step up in clutch situations. Some of the freshmen also emphasized the mentorship of the upperclassmen.

“They’ve literally taught us everything,” Nelson said. “The first day we were here, we were running with our heads cut off… they’ve been here for us the entire time and it’s obviously translated on the field for us.”

The Cats’ roster of freshmen and veterans, like senior outfielder Morgan Nelson and senior first baseman Lily Novak, has been the perfect balance for a team that doesn’t rely too heavily on one player offensively. However, NU will need all of its players firing on all cylinders offensively against the Spartans.

The Spartans (15-29, 3-13) rank right below the Cats in batting average by .001 and are lead by freshman standout Charla Echols, who is ninth in the Big Ten with a .379 batting average. Michigan State has four additional players with averages of .289 and above.

NU will need great pitching performances from Williams, along with veteran pitchers Kaley Winegarner and Kenna Wilkey to combat the Spartans’ offense.

“They’re an offensive-minded team so that’s what we’ve gotta battle this weekend,” Drohan said. “We’ve really challenged (our) pitching staff to challenge them and we’ve challenged our offense to take away opportunities in their offense.”

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