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Softball Notebook: In just two years, Northwestern goes from missing the NCAA Tournament to hosting a regional

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Softball Notebook: In just two years, Northwestern goes from missing the NCAA Tournament to hosting a regional

Lily Novak breaks out of the batter’s box. The Wildcats will host an NCAA regional this weekend for the first time in 11 years.

Lily Novak breaks out of the batter’s box. The Wildcats will host an NCAA regional this weekend for the first time in 11 years.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Lily Novak breaks out of the batter’s box. The Wildcats will host an NCAA regional this weekend for the first time in 11 years.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Lily Novak breaks out of the batter’s box. The Wildcats will host an NCAA regional this weekend for the first time in 11 years.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Assistant Sports Editor

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Northwestern did not play a game Sunday, but the Wildcats still picked up their biggest win of the season.

NU (43-10, 21-2 Big Ten) was announced as the 16th and final national seed on the selection show Sunday night, meaning NCAA Tournament action will return to Sharon J. Drysdale Field for the first time since 2008.

“There was definitely a lot of anticipation all day,” coach Kate Drohan said after the announcement. “It speaks to our body of work this year, it speaks to the commitment that our team has made, and it also speaks to the history of our program. A lot of things led up to this moment.”

It has been a long road back to national prominence for the Cats, who were one of the most dominant teams in the sport from 2005 to 2008. During that four-year stretch, NU made four NCAA Super Regional appearances, won two Big Ten championships, and twice went to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series.

For the last three of those years, postseason softball was played in Evanston, with the 2006 and 2007 teams hosting both regionals and super regionals.

But while the Cats have been consistent NCAA Tournament participants since then, they haven’t gotten back to the level of those teams. In fact, NU missed the tournament just two years ago, climbing from 25 wins in 2017 to 38 last season to 43 so far this year.

The Cats have traveled across the country for the postseason over the past 11 years, from Waco, Texas to Seattle to Athens, Georgia. But this year, NU has earned the right to stay home.

“It was pretty special,” junior Morgan Newport said. “All the hours we spent training and preparing, it just feels like it’s all come together.”

A close call

The No. 16 seed came down to the Cats and James Madison, which has a 47-7 overall record. What hurt the Dukes is that they play in the Colonial Athletic Association, a much weaker conference than the Big Ten, and had fewer opportunities to pick up quality wins. NU had 15 wins against the top 50 teams in RPI, while James Madison had just four.

Brandi Stuart, who chairs the NCAA Division I Softball Committee, told Softball America that the Cats just barely squeezed into the top 16.

“Northwestern still had four or five more non-conference results after taking Big Ten play out,” Stuart said. “That’s where Northwestern got the nod. It was a very slight edge over JMU.”

Four teams, four storylines

Every team in the Evanston Regional has an intriguing storyline. Louisville’s first-year coach, Holly Aprile, was one out away from making the NCAA Tournament last year with Pittsburgh before losing on a walk-off home run in the ACC Tournament championship game to Florida State, who went on to win the national title.

Southern Illinois was one of the last four teams into the field of 64, a rare at-large out of the Missouri Valley Conference, while Detroit Mercy, who will take on NU in the opening round Friday, is making its first-ever tournament appearance.

The Cats are keeping the focus on themselves, however, and Drohan is hoping for a strong turnout from the fans.

“There’s no question we need the support of our community,” Drohan said. “It’ll be great for us to showcase what our student-athletes have been working for all year.”

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

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