Softball: Ranked win highlights Northwestern’s 4-1 tournament performance

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Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Rachel Lewis attempts to throw out a runner. Lewis’ six hits, including a grand slam, tied for the most on the team.

Nathan Ansell, Assistant Sports Editor

If there’s one thing Northwestern can do, it’s start a season strong.

The Wildcats (4-1, 0-0 Big Ten) had plenty of positives to take away from their run at the inaugural Northern Lights Invitational in central Florida. NU’s five games ended with a combined score of 33-7. It was a weekend marked by noteworthy debuts, excellent all-around offensive performances and consistency from the pitcher’s circle.

In their season opener, the Cats produced an 8-0 shutout victory over Connecticut (2-2, 0-0 Big East). Senior pitcher Danielle Williams struck out eight while allowing just two hits and graduate student second baseman Rachel Lewis rocketed a two-out grand slam in the fourth inning. Junior pinch-hitter Kendall Peterson’s RBI single invoked the eight-run rule, ending the game after five innings.

NU’s lone loss on the weekend came in their next game against No. 13 Virginia Tech (5-0, 0-0 ACC). Senior outfielder Skyler Shellmyer opened the scoring by stealing home, but the Cats couldn’t wake their bats in their second game of the day. The Hokies’ Keely Rochard went the distance, striking out an astonishing 15 batters over seven innings en route to a 3-2 result.

The Cats got back to winning ways against Akron (0-5, 0-0 Mid-American). Senior pitcher Lauren Dvorak picked up her first career victory, receiving plenty of run support in the process. Freshman designated hitter Ayana Lindsey made the most out of her debut in purple, going 3-4 with an RBI, and senior catcher Jordyn Rudd contributed a triple and a double to lead a 11-2 romp.

NU’s opponent in the second half of Saturday’s doubleheader was No. 24 Liberty (0-4, 0-0 ASUN). Coach Kate Drohan’s squad extinguished the Flames early on, scoring four in the first inning. Williams pitched her second complete game as seven different Cats reached base, including two hits from junior outfielder Angela Zedak. Liberty managed just four hits on the day, half of NU’s total, and the Cats commanded the entire game en route to an 8-2 victory.

The weekend concluded with a showdown against Eastern Kentucky (0-5, 0-0 Ohio Valley). Rain delayed the start of the game for two hours, but the display from NU was worth waiting for. The Colonels were completely stifled by Dvorak and Williams from the circle, who allowed just four hits on the day. After Rudd doubled to bring in two runs in the first inning, senior shortstop Maeve Nelson cleared the fence in right-center to put an exclamation point on the game. 

The Cats were limited to one run for the rest of the game, but a lackluster showing at the plate from Eastern Kentucky led to a 4-0 final score. Freshman second baseman Grace Nieto went 3-3 from the plate, a breakout performance from someone who had only managed one hit before that game.

Next up for NU is the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational. NU’s four-game slate of opponents includes three top 15 opponents, including two in the top five — No. 3 UCLA (4-1, 0-0 Pac-12) and No. 5 Oklahoma State (4-1, 0-0 Big 12). One-sided victories over unranked opponents are one thing, but this event is Drohan’s chance to convince the nation that the Cats belong with the best of the best.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @nathanjansell

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