Softball: Northwestern starts 6-0 for the first time in program history

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Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Rachel Lewis hits the ball. The second baseman had seven hits this weekend to help the Wildcats start 6-0 for the first time in program history.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Senior Staffer


Softball


For all the success the Northwestern program has experienced — six Big Ten titles, eight NCAA Regional championships and five trips to the Women’s College World Series — the Wildcats have never started a season as well as they did this weekend.

NU (6-0) finally stepped back on the field in Leesburg, Fla. after a 355-day wait, and came out on fire, sweeping doubleheaders against Michigan State, Rutgers and Penn State by a combined score of 41-5.

“We talked to the group a lot about handling their adrenaline because we were all so excited to get back on the field,” coach Kate Drohan said. “We knew their heart rate would be going. What I felt throughout the weekend was a real sense of maturity, understanding of our system, and that gave them a lot of confidence on the field.”

NU shut out the Spartans (2-4) twice Friday, both 5-0 final scores, on complete games by junior Danielle Williams and freshman Lauren Boyd. Williams’ masterpiece wasn’t much of a surprise. The California native was the NFCA National Freshman of the Year in 2019 and led the Cats to the Super Regionals that year. She allowed one hit in the opening game and struck out eight with no walks.

Boyd, though, threw a shutout in her college debut, becoming the first NU pitcher to do so since Williams. She gave up two hits and also did not walk a batter, striking out five.

“Every pitcher has a different look that really works for them,” junior catcher Jordyn Rudd said. “(Boyd) is crazy excited and really loves the game, and catching her is so much fun. She makes every inning a blast.”

The Cats made it three straight shutouts to open the year on Saturday against Rutgers (2-4), with sophomore Sydney Supple allowing three hits in a 8-0 win. Supple also ended the game early in the fifth inning, driving in three runs with a hit down the right field line to bring the run rule into effect.

NU’s offense was strong all weekend, averaging nearly seven runs per game despite not hitting any home runs. Drohan attributed the lack of long balls to deep field dimensions in Leesburg, but that didn’t stop the Cats from putting up four innings of four or more runs, including an eight-run third in Sunday’s first game against Penn State (0-6).

Junior center fielder Skyler Shellmyer had hits in eight consecutive at-bats spanning four games, and she leads the team with a .667 batting average.

“I’ve been focusing on simplifying my game and working toward my strengths,” Shellmyer said. “I have a lot of speed, so I’ve been utilizing that with bunts, and it’s been working out.”

NU also saw strong offensive performances from senior second baseman Rachel Lewis, who had seven hits in 15 at-bats, and junior shortstop Maeve Nelson, with her team-leading three doubles and eight RBIs.

Through six games of this 44-game conference-only schedule, the Cats are in first place in the Big Ten. They’ll return to Leesburg from March 11-14 for a couple of tougher series, playing three games each against Indiana and Ohio State.

“This is a sign of a team that’s got a lot of potential,” Drohan said. “Their work ethic is awesome. Their effort and their physicality was really outstanding. This is just the start of the race, so we have a lot ahead of us still, but I’m pleased with the tone that we’ve set.”

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Twitter: @bxrosenberg

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