Softball: Gritty pitching staff lifts Northwestern to a split at Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic


Daily file photo by Jorge Melendez

Graduate student pitcher Danielle Williams throws a pitch at the mound of Sharon J. Drysdale Field. At the Mary Nutter Classic, Williams tossed a complete game in the Wildcats’ 2-1 win against the University of San Diego.

Rachel Schlueter, Reporter

No. 17 Northwestern’s (6-6, 0-0 Big Ten) pitching rotation kept the Wildcats within fighting distance during the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic on Feb. 24 to 26, allowing the team to win two games and narrowly lose two. 

NU’s first game against Portland State was canceled due to travel issues. So, NU opened the series with a Friday afternoon pitchers’ duel against the No. 22 Oregon (12-3, 0-0 Pac-12).

Junior pitcher Lauren Boyd started in the circle for the Cats. The game was scoreless until the third inning when the Ducks drove in a run. Boyd maintained her composure on the mound and stranded two Oregon players in scoring position.

In the fourth inning, graduate catcher Jordyn Rudd tied the game with a solo home run, her first of the 2023 season.

Ducks’ pitcher Stevie Hansen silenced NU’s offense for the remainder of the game. Boyd continued showing grit in the pitcher’s circle, stranding two more Oregon runners in scoring positions in the sixth inning. The game was tied heading into the seventh inning — but the Ducks knotted a run with an RBI single, resulting in the Cats losing 1-2. Boyd threw a complete game, striking out five.

On Saturday, the Cats played a doubleheader against No. 1 UCLA (17-1, 0-0 Pac-12) and No. 18 Kentucky (10-3-1, 1-0 SEC).

Last February, NU took down the Bruins with a three-run walk-off homerun from then-senior shortstop Maeve Nelson. But in June 2022, the Bruins ended the Cats’ Women’s College World Series run. Heading into the Saturday matchup, NU looked to avenge its postseason loss. 

Graduate center fielder Skyler Shellmyer led the game off with a single, but UCLA pitcher Brooke Yanez responded by retiring 19 consecutive Cats at plate.

The Bruins’ runs came from solo home runs by a pair of UCLA freshmen hitters in the third and fourth innings. But, NU’s pitching duo of senior Sydney Supple and graduate student Cami Henry worked to keep the Bruins’ run total to just two. In the seventh inning, Rudd, in deja vu fashion, sent a solo shot over the left field fence to get the Cats on the scoreboard. But, NU couldn’t get its momentum and lost 2-1.

Through two games, the Cats only had six hits. So, in its game against the Kentucky Wildcats, NU’s offense was primed to explode. And it did. 

Kentucky struck first, plating two runs in the top of the third inning. In the bottom of the third, however, the Cats responded by loading the bases with back-to-back-to-back singles. Rudd, who had a hot bat all weekend, brought home the first run for NU with a fielder’s choice. 

The Cats tied it up in the fourth inning, thanks to a two-out RBI single by Shellmyer. NU continued its two-out rally, taking a 3-2 lead when Rudd was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. With Nelson’s RBI single and a six-pitch walk drawn by senior left fielder Angela Zedak, the Cats pulled ahead to 5-2. 

In the fifth, Shellmyer sent an RBI single up the middle of the field, giving NU a 6-2 lead. Courtesy of a Wildcats’ fielding error and a 2-RBI single from Nelson, the squad headed into the sixth inning with a 9-2 lead. 

Graduate pitcher Danielle Williams threw a complete game, allowing only one earned run in the seventh inning and striking out seven batters. With Williams’ strong performance and hefty offensive power led by Shellmyer and Nelson, the Cats beat Kentucky 9-3 and earned their first win of the weekend.

In its final game on Sunday, NU faced the University of San Diego (3-14, 0-0 WCC).

Staying with the theme, the Cats’ pitching staff shined again. Henry opened the game by retiring three Torero batters with eight pitches. In the third inning, San Diego scored first, but Henry responded by stranding two Toreros on the bases. 

NU was held scoreless until the fifth inning, when Zedak stepped up to bat with a runner on first base. With a 2-2 count, Zedak connected with a pitch on the outside corner, sending it over the right field fence. The Cats took the lead 2-1. 

Under a tight one-run lead, NU supported its pitchers with a tight defense. Sophomore second baseman Grace Nieto and shortstop Nelson turned a double play to end the fifth inning. Behind the arms of Henry and relief pitcher Williams, the Cats won the game by 2-1.

NU will hit the field next weekend at the Cardinal Classic, where the team will play Louisville, Toledo and Northern Kentucky.

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Twitter: @rschlueter26

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