Softball: Nelson’s walk-off becomes the pinnacle of impressive weekend for Northwestern


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Maeve Nelson trots around the bases. Nelson’s three-run walk-off homer secured victory against No. 3 UCLA.

Nathan Ansell, Assistant Sports Editor

Extra innings, two outs, two strikes and a one-run deficit against the third-best team in the nation.

The odds were stacked against Maeve Nelson. The senior shortstop, however, needed just one opportunity, catapulting a Megan Faraimo pitch over the center field fence to lift Northwestern to a 6-4 victory over No. 3 UCLA (7-3, 0-0 Pac-12).

“I kept saying, ‘This is like a fever dream,’” Nelson said. “As soon as I hit first base, I knew it was over. I was like, ‘I need to get home as fast as possible, because we are going to celebrate so good when I get home.'”

The win was one of three this weekend for the Wildcats (7-2, 0-0 Big Ten) in a four-game schedule at the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational. Coach Kate Drohan’s squad also earned victories over Texas Tech (3-7, 0-0 Big 12) and No. 15 Clemson (6-3, 0-0 ACC) and lost a close contest against No. 7 Oklahoma State (6-4, 0-0 Big 12).

NU’s tournament schedule got underway against the Red Raiders. The ‘Cats scored in each of the first three innings, forcing Texas Tech to replace its starter in the second frame. Senior left fielder Angela Zedak hit the first of two home runs to put NU up by three runs, and the Cats’ lead was never less than that until the last pitch.

“We’re always excited to play these teams,” Zedak said. “It’s pretty cool to see how we match up with teams outside of our conference.”

Following the 9-6 win, NU squared off with the Bruins in part two of a Friday doubleheader. It took a while for the Cats’ bats to heat up — NU didn’t score until the fifth inning — but a sixth-inning home run from senior center fielder Rachel Lewis was the spark plug for an offensive explosion for both teams.

The game needed extra innings to be decided. UCLA scored on a sacrifice fly and a Kinsley Washington solo homer, but senior catcher Jordyn Rudd hit an RBI single off an 0-2 count with two outs to extend the inning. After that, Nelson stepped up to the plate, and the rest was history.

“After the game, I got a hug from both Kate and Carol, and that meant a lot to me,” Nelson said. “That game meant a lot for Kate, just proving we’re not just a good program, we’re a really great program and we’re competing with the top.”

The next day, the ‘Cats had to re-center themselves against the Tigers. Senior pitcher Danielle Williams,​​ who Drohan praised for her “toughness from the mound,” pitched a complete game, allowing just three hits and striking out 11 batters. Williams appeared in all four games, starting three.

On offense, NU had steady contributions from Zedak and senior right fielder Skyler Shellmyer, who both knocked in two runs. Shellmyer’s eight hits across the tournament led the ‘Cats.

“I was really concerned about an emotional hangover,” Drohan said. “Our seniors and our leaders did a really nice job of getting our team focused.”

NU closed the tournament against the Cowgirls, jumping out to an early lead with a three-run first inning. Oklahoma State crawled their way back into the game, however, claiming a 4-3 lead off back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning. The game ended with the same score.

Senior first baseman Nikki Cuchran provided most of the ‘Cats’ offense on the day, with two hits and two runs batted in. NU didn’t manage a single extra-base hit against the Cowgirls.

“We all would have liked to come out of there with four (wins),” Zedak said. “But it’s big to go out there and compete against the best of the best.”

The Cats will travel to California next week for the Mary Nutter Classic, a tournament that NU also attended in 2020.

The five-game schedule includes a rematch with Texas Tech in the finale.

“It’s a big ask to get this our team ready for five opponents,” Drohan said. “They work really hard at it, and because of that work ethic, they’re really fun to coach.”

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Twitter: @nathanjansell

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