Softball: Northwestern outlasts Arizona State to advance to Women’s College World Series


Daily file photo by Jorge Melendez

Danielle Williams winds up. Williams and the Wildcats struggled against a dominant Oklahoma team in their first game of the 2022 Women’s College World Series and were outscored 13-2 in five innings.

Nathan Ansell, Senior Staffer


Trailing 5-0 after three innings against the Pac-12 champions, a lesser team would have folded under the pressure.

Northwestern (45-11, 19-4 Big Ten), on the other hand, clawed its way back against No. 8 Arizona State (43-11, 20-4 Pac-12) in the third and final game of the Tempe Super Regional. The No. 9 Wildcats put four on the scoreboard in the fourth inning and scored in each of the next three innings, coming from behind to defeat the Sun Devils 8-6. With the win, NU reached the Women’s College World Series for the first time in 15 years.

“These three games felt like World Series games,” coach Kate Drohan said. “Our team was on a mission. I’m really proud of the way they fought back today.”

The Super Regional started Friday as senior pitcher Danielle Williams took the circle. She kept Arizona State quiet for three innings, but solo home runs from Yannira Acuna, Makenna Harper and Alynah Torres in the fourth and fifth frames gave the home team a three-run lead.

NU’s bats woke up just in time — graduate right fielder Rachel Lewis chipped away at the deficit after she cleared the fence in the sixth inning, setting the stage for sophomore third baseman Hannah Cady to tie the ballgame with a solo blast in the seventh.

The game ended up continuing so long that the scoreboard had to be reset, unable to show past the tenth inning. Finally, in the top of the 11th, junior left fielder Angela Zedak made the breakthrough, grounding out but enabling senior shortstop Maeve Nelson to score the winning run to score in the process.

Williams, who started all three games, turned in a Herculean effort in the opener. She lasted all 11 innings, throwing 179 pitches and striking out nine Sun Devils. Drohan said she considered resting Williams for the rest of the weekend when the team was losing 3-0, but Lewis’ home run convinced her to keep the Cats’ ace in.

“Going out there for my team is a big thing,” Williams said. “Showing up for them because they show up for me.”

The second game in the series was back-and-forth. Arizona State struck first with an RBI double, but an error allowed NU to tie the score at one run apiece. After a three-run home run reestablished the Sun Devils’ lead, consecutive fifth-inning hits from senior catcher Jordyn Rudd and Nelson brought the Cats within one.

Down to her team’s last out, Nelson’s fly ball to center field dropped under an outfielder’s glove, sending the game into extra innings. From there, however, it was all Arizona State, who registered three runs in the eighth to level the series.

“It’s a game of momentum,” Arizona State coach Trisha Ford said. “(We’ve) had a lot of blood, sweat and tears on this field.”

Torres got Arizona State off to a good start in the series finale, homering in the team’s first at-bat. They did more damage in the third inning, bringing in a run on an RBI single before an Emily Cazares home run scored three more.

NU got to work in the fourth, plating two runs on a fielder’s choice from senior designated hitter Lauren Caldrone and two more off a Rudd single. Arizona State got out of the inning with the bases loaded, but the Cats’ scoring threat didn’t go away. Cady rocketed another game-tying home run in the fifth inning, Nelson gave NU its first lead of the game in the sixth and Lewis delivered a clutch RBI single in the seventh. Rudd added one more insurance run with a team-leading ninth hit of the weekend.

The Sun Devils’ rally in the bottom of the inning fell short. Needing three runs to tie, they could only come up with one. Cady caught a pop-up in foul territory to end the game, and the Cats’ celebrations began.

“It was this moment of excitement, where all of our hard work was really starting to pay off,” Rudd said. “Now, we have even more work to do.”

After emerging victorious in the best-of-three, NU will face defending champion No. 1 Oklahoma (54-2, 17-1 Big 12) to open its Women’s College World Series run Thursday at 1:30. The game will take place in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, about 30 miles from the Sooners’ home stadium. Oklahoma eliminated the Cats from a super regional in 2019, the first playoff run for many seniors on NU’s roster.

For many of the Cats, the moment is still sinking in.

“It’s this amazing feeling,” Rudd said. “Once we set foot there and we start practicing … it’s going to be so real, and it’s going to be awesome.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @nathanjansell

Related Stories:

Softball: No. 9 Northwestern trounces opponents at Evanston regional

Softball: Northwestern earns No. 9 seed in NCAA Tournament

Softball: Northwestern dominates All-Conference honors, receives three of four individual awards