Softball: Bastola: No. 12 Northwestern completes perfect home campaign, proving it has everything it needs for a second consecutive dream season


Katie Chen/The Daily Northwestern

Danielle Williams pitches the ball against Eastern Illinois during Friday’s game. One of the team’s leaders, she delivered in her last performance on home turf, securing the win and NCAA regionals victory for the Cats.

Kunjal Bastola, Reporter

No. 12 Northwestern’s veterans led the way as the team took on Miami (Ohio) in the third game of the NCAA regionals Sunday. 

After defeating Eastern Illinois 2-0 on Friday and No. 22 Kentucky 10-8 on Saturday, the Wildcats (41-11, 20-3 Big Ten) advanced to the final day of the regional Sunday, where they faced the Redhawks (39-20, 21-8 MAC).

While it was a tough fight, all the way down to the last inning, many of NU’s players stepped up to the challenge — including graduate student outfielder Skyler Shellmyer and graduate student catcher Jordyn Rudd, whose chemistry on the field isn’t hard to spot. 

“She is just such a solid hitter and solid player, and I have so much trust in her,” Shellmyer said of Rudd.

Twice during the matchup, Shellmyer was able to score from second after a hit from Rudd, showing the incredible bond between two of the team’s leaders. 

“I don’t get to do what I do until she gets on,” said Shellmyer of Rudd. 

Miami infielder Karli Spaid opened the scoring with a home run in the bottom of the first inning.

With the Cats trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the third, graduate student infielder Nikki Cuchran stepped up to the plate. Cuchran swung on the first pitch, making solid contact and drilling a two-run homer.

From there, it was a matter of grit — the Cats needed to claw their way to a crucial victory.

The stands erupted at the bottom of the fourth inning, as graduate student pitcher Danielle Williams entered the game for one last dance on her home field. 

In the top of the fifth, Shellmyer singled to center field. From there, freshman infielder Kansas Robinson grounded out, but Shellmyer reached second. Then, Rudd stepped up and delivered a single down right field, and Shellmyer sprinted home to bring the Cats to a 3-2 lead.

Redhawk senior infielder Holly Blaska silenced the crowd, on a two-run bomb in the fifth inning. Nevertheless, NU never relented. As a team that has dealt with adversity, the Cardiac Cats knew what it took to capture victory from the jaws of defeat.

So that’s what they did. 

While each player is important to the team in a different way, it’s when the Cats come together and help each other out that you really see why they’ve been so successful.

“I think we’re doing really well at being a great team right now and being great teammates,” said Rudd.  

Senior utility Angela Zedak unleashed her wheels on a run from second base to home, thanks to a groundout from freshman outfielder Kelsey Nader knotting the score at 4-4. 

Then, the Cats’ dynamic duo delivered yet again, as Rudd doubled to center field to drive in Shellmyer for a 5-4 lead.

The bottom of the seventh brought the crowd to a standstill, as Williams walked Redhawk infielder Allie Cummins. Blaska then singled up the middle, allowing Cummins to advance to third. 

With the game and perfect homestand on the line, coach Kate Drohan instructed Williams to intentionally walk Spaid, demonstrating her utmost trust in her ace.

“She understood how that move was going to help her defense,” Drohan said. “We wanted the matchups behind her, and we have a lot of faith in her ability.” 

Now, the Redhawks possessed prime position to nab an upset.

But, Williams delivered at the eleventh hour. She recorded the first two outs of the inning by striking out a batter and securing a groundout. 

NU stood one out away from a super regional bid.

And Williams proved her all-conference pedigree, sending in three perfect strikes to send the Cats to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for next weekend’s NCAA super regionals. 

For NU’s veteran players, this last time at home meant one final chance to take in the moment with their biggest supporters.

“Our fans make ‘the J’ what it is and they bring it so much energy, and we’re excited to play around them,” said Rudd. 

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Twitter: @kunjal_bastola

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