Softball: No. 12 Northwestern looks to stay undefeated at home, win NCAA regional


Daily file photo by Seeger Gray

Northwestern’s season drew to a close following game three of the Tuscaloosa Super Regional. The Wildcats fell short of returning to the Women’s College World Series.

Rachel Schlueter, Reporter

No. 12 Northwestern (36-11, 20-3 Big Ten) will open the first round of the NCAA regional tournament against Eastern Illinois (34-19, 16-6 Ohio Valley) this Friday. 

NU is 8-2 in franchise history against the Ohio Valley Conference champions, whom it hasn’t met on the diamond since 1998.

This is the Cats’ second straight year hosting a regional series in Evanston. Last year, NU swept all three games against Oakland and McNeese, winning by a total margin of 36-7. 

The Cats have been on a season-long hot streak, having not lost a game at home this season in addition to winning their first first Big Ten tournament since 2008. 

Since coach Kate Drohan joined the coaching staff in 1998, NU has never completed an undefeated home season. But regardless of any streaks, Drohan said her team is going to take this weekend one game at a time and enjoy the home atmosphere. 

“There’s something really special about playing in (Sharon J. Drysdale Field) in May, it’s just got a little extra something to it,” Drohan said. “We love how intimate it is. We feel like our fans are really connected to our dugout, and to our team.”

With an experienced lineup on both offense and defense, the Cats are poised to make some noise in the NCAA tournament. Here are some key factors to look out for.


  1. Last hurrah for the veteran squad 

NU’s lineup is no stranger to the big postseason stage. All but two of the Cats starting nine played in the Women’s College World Series last year. Four of these starters are graduate players who will soon be playing their final postseason for NU: catcher Jordyn Rudd, infielder Maeve Nelson, outfielder Skyler Shellmyer and infielder Nikki Cuchran.

The four graduate players combined for four of the Cats’ 12 RBIs in the Big Ten tournament. Over their careers, they have compiled for 937 starts, 852 hits and 87 home runs. The four veteran players bring strong offensive firepower that NU will need this weekend.

  1. The Williams Way

Graduate pitcher Danielle Williams will pitch for the final time in the Sharon J. Drysdale Field circle this weekend. The Cats’ ace is coming off a spectacular Big Ten tournament weekend where she was named as the most outstanding player. Williams made an appearance in all three of last weekend’s games, pitching 14 innings and allowing no earned runs while striking out eight.

“When (Williams) is on the mound, it just gives us so much confidence and we stay very calm with her on the mound,” Rudd said. 

Heading into regionals, NU will continue to rely on Williams’ arm. Last year, the southpaw had a dominant performance in the regional round. Williams threw 16 innings, allowing seven earned runs while striking out 17. If Williams can repeat these performances, and the Cats’ offense can create enough run support, NU can coast to the Super Regional. 

  1. Can the Cardiac Cats keep it up?

NU has taken the lead in the fifth inning or later in 18 of its 38 wins this season. The Cats  have also won each of their five extra inning games this season.

NU’s grittiness was on full-display in the Big Ten title game last Sunday, when Nelson sent a walk-off single into right-center field. The Cats’ championship win was a true team effort and saw players draw walks, string together base hits and take advantage of wild pitches.

The Cats’ one-at-a-time mentality will prove crucial through the remainder of the NCAA tournament, especially as pitching becomes stronger as the Wildcats advance deeper into the postseason. Pitcher Olivia Price, Eastern Illinois’ ace with a 1.70 ERA, will likely start in the match-up against NU. 

To ensure success, the Cats will need to continue their never-give-up attitude in the batter’s box for the entirety of Friday’s game. 

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Twitter: @rschlueter26

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