Softball: Northwestern softball wins three elimination games en route to NCAA Super Regionals


Brian Meng/Daily Senior Staffer

Danielle Williams prepares to hit. The freshman had four hits at the plate and pitched 23 innings in four of NU’s five NCAA Regional games this weekend.

Andrew Golden, Web Editor


Despite being three outs away from sending Northwestern to its first NCAA Super Regional since 2008, freshman pitcher Danielle Williams didn’t seen rattled by the moment.

Even after Louisville center fielder Celene Funke hit a leadoff triple in the top of the seventh and let out a scream, the pressure didn’t seem to shake her.

The southpaw jumped up and down, grinning from ear to ear, as she returned to the mound after Funke’s hit. Williams retired the next three batters as the No. 16 Wildcats (47-11, 21-2 Big Ten) advanced past the Cardinals (35-23, 12-12 ACC) to face No. 1 national seed Oklahoma in the next round.

“She hits her spots,” Louisville coach Holly Aprile said. “She’s a lefty. She’s tough. She’s a fighter. She goes out there and she just keeps making her pitches.”

After annihilating Detroit Mercy 15-1 in the opening game of the Evanston Regional, NU was faced with a familiar opponent — Louisville, who it had faced three times earlier in the season.

In the previous matchups, the Cats won all three games by a combined margin of four runs — and Saturday’s winners bracket matchup was just as tight.

Neither team could find the answers on offense, but the Cardinals jumped out to a 1-0 lead off a home run by Louisville pitcher Taylor Roby.

After a three-hour lightning and rain delay, Louisville tacked on another home run from Sidney Melton. The two homers were the only two hits Williams gave up the whole game.

The Cats had plenty of opportunities to drive in runs, leaving seven runners on base in the first three innings. However, they were only able to score one run in the bottom of the seventh off a double from Maeve Nelson that scored Morgan Nelson.

With a chance to tie the game, freshman designated hitter Nikki Cuchran grounded out to shortstop, and NU fell 2-1. That loss meant they’d need to win three elimination games to advance in the tournament.

“(Danielle Watson) threw a tough game (and) got some key outs early in the game,” coach Kate Drohan said after the Cats’ first Saturday game. “We didn’t do enough to win that game today.”

Due to weather delays throughout the afternoon, NU’s second game of the day against Southern Illinois (34-15, 17-6 Missouri Valley) started around 9:25 p.m. Under the lights at Sharon J. Drysdale Field, the Cats put together a 12-hit performance, anchored by Morgan Newport’s 4-for-4 performance. As the game moved past midnight, NU was able to stave off elimination and beat the Salukis 8-1.

On Sunday, with their backs against the wall once again, Williams put the team on her back as she had done all season.

The freshman pitcher gave up just two hits, like the first game, but this time the hits stayed in the park. She also got some help from her offense.

After four hits in the first game, the Cats broke through for seven runs on seven hits against Southern Illinois, including four runs in the fourth inning. Newport came in relief and finished the game, giving Williams a break before she pitched the final game.

“The thing with Danielle and why she was effective for two whole games today is because she has a lot of different looks,” Drohan said. “She has a lot of different ways she can spin the ball and we were able to mix it up.”

In their third elimination game of the weekend, Watson and Williams battled like they had in the first game. Both teams scored two runs and in the bottom of the fifth, Cuchran stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and a chance to redeem herself.

The freshman designated hitter came through as she lined a single to center field that scored two runs and put the Cats ahead for good.

After surviving the weekend, Drohan said that NU had a narrow focus on one game at a time. But now, NU will have to shift toward the Sooners, a team the Cats lost to twice earlier in the season.

“This is a big step for our program, but we still have a lot ahead of us here,” Drohan said. “We’ve worked hard at all aspects of our game for this moment … a really driven group of women out there fighting hard for their school today.”

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