Softball: Northwestern earns No. 9 seed in NCAA Tournament


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Junior outfielder Angela Zedak runs the bases. Zedak scored a run in NU’s quarterfinal game against Wisconsin.

Nathan Ansell, Senior Staffer


If Northwestern needed any additional fuel heading into the NCAA Tournament, it certainly got some last Friday.

Prior to Sunday’s announcement of the 64-team bracket, the Wildcats (40-10, 19-4 Big Ten) competed in the Big Ten Tournament. After a solid all-around performance in the quarterfinals against Wisconsin (28-19, 12-11 Big Ten), NU allowed a go-ahead home run with two outs in the seventh inning against Michigan (36-16, 14-8 Big Ten), a game the Cats would eventually lose.

“Last weekend was an anomaly, it’s not the rule,” senior shortstop Maeve Nelson said. “We’re going to come back, learn from it and rebound from it.”

That gut punch against the Wolverines aside, coach Kate Drohan and NU have put together an impressive season. The Cats, who received the No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament bracket (their highest seed in 15 years), earned the privilege of hosting a regional for the first time in three years. NU has four wins against other seeded teams.

The opponents that will be arriving in Evanston this weekend are Oakland (26-15, 18-7 Horizon League), McNeese (38-19, 15-3 Southland) and Notre Dame (39-10, 16-5 ACC). The Cats beat the Golden Grizzlies twice in 2020, the only two meetings between the two sides, and have never faced the Cowgirls before.

NU lost to the Fighting Irish earlier this season on April 5. The two sides have gone head-to-head four times since the end of the 2015 season.

“That game that we played earlier this season was a tough game, we came up short,” Drohan said. “We’re two programs that are very familiar with each other.”

Despite not hosting a regional since 2019, a large portion of Drohan’s squad knows what it’s like to play at home in the postseason. Seven current Cats made an appearance in the last NCAA Tournament match at Sharon J. Drysdale Field three years ago. Assistant coach Michelle Gascoigne won a national championship as a player with Oklahoma in 2013.

According to Drohan, many of the seniors are sharing playoff advice with the team’s younger members as well.

“Going through the 2019 postseason, we’ve been through the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows,” senior catcher Jordyn Rudd said. “It’s shown this year how close we are.”

Nearly every member of the team has at least some playoff history, as the Cats played three games in Lexington, Kentucky last year. With six seniors and a graduate student in NU’s usual lineup, the team’s mix of talent and experience has crescendoed to this moment.

As the stakes climb higher than ever, NU’s more experienced players aren’t forgetting to enjoy the ride — it could be their last shot at postseason glory.

“I hope I’ve left the program better than I’ve found it,” graduate right fielder Rachel Lewis said. “Coming in as a freshman, I had an awesome senior class, and I hope to leave my mark the same way on those younger players now.”

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Twitter: @nathanjansell

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