Softball: No. 12 Northwestern seeks back-to-back WCWS appearances, faces No. 5 Alabama


Katie Chen/Daily file photo

Danielle Williams throws a pitch at Sharon J. Drysdale Field. Williams notched three wins in last weekend’s Regional, and will be integral to the Cats’ path back to the Women’s College World Series.

Rachel Schlueter, Reporter

No. 12 Northwestern (41-11, 20-3 Big Ten) will square off against No. 5 Alabama (43-19, 14-10 SEC) this weekend at the Tuscaloosa Super Regional.

The Cats are looking to advance to their second-straight Women’s College World Series appearance. Last year, NU punched their ticket to Oklahoma City after two wins versus Arizona State. On the other hand, The Crimson Tide failed to make it out of the Tuscaloosa Super Regional after losing to Stanford.

This is the Wildcats’ seventh Super Regional appearance under Kate and Caryl Drohans’ coaching. NU is 2-4 against Alabama all-time, with the most recent game being a win on March 4, 2018.

With a back-to-back WCWS appearance on the line, here’s a breakdown of NU’s stats heading into this weekend.

1. Maintaining the hot streak

The Cats are traveling to Tuscaloosa on a roll, holding a winning streak of seven after finishing an undefeated home season at last weekend’s Evanston Regional. NU’s recent string of wins are thanks to their offense and a range of key contributors.

Several veteran Wildcats are also on hot streaks. Graduate catcher Jordyn Rudd hit .600 last weekend, recording four RBIs. Graduate shortstop Mave Nelson is on a 13-game on-base streak, hitting .400 during that stretch. Graduate center fielder Skyler Shellmyer also recorded five hits last weekend.

In addition to NU’s fifth-year senior squad, junior third baseman Hannah Cady also had a strong weekend in the batter’s box, recording five hits. Freshman infielder Kansas Robinson had a standout Regional performance with three home runs, two of which were in the same inning, and five RBIs.

Offensive success for the Cats is contingent upon these hitting leaders being ready to attack Alabama’s deep pitching rotation.

2. Attacking early and often

The Cats were the first to score 30 of 41 NU’s wins this season. A key to being successful against a juggernaut like Alabama will be setting the tone and getting ahead early.

Alabama’s line-up is full of home run sluggers, who can change the game with one swing of the bat. Last weekend, catcher Ally Shipman’s seventh inning solo home run was the go-ahead run against a winner-take-all game versus Middle Tennessee. Shipman’s swing is what guaranteed Alabama a place in the Super Regional. Shipman hit .400 with four RBIs last weekend.

In addition to Shipman, the Crimson Tide have a number of offensive stars who had strong performances last weekend. Infielder Kali Heivilin had two home runs and five RBIs, and infielder Bailey Dowling also had five RBIs.

To compete with Alabama, NU will need to perform well from top to bottom of the line-up – and right out of the gate.

3. Pitcher’s duel

Graduate pitcher Danielle Williams is returning to the Super Regional stage once again – this time with some support from junior pitcher Lauren Boyd, who was injured during last year’s postseason run.

Williams is on pace to have her best season yet. The veteran ace has recorded 20 straight wins with no losses since April 2. Williams won all three games of last weekend’s Regional, pitching 16.1 innings and striking out 22 batters.

Boyd also had a strong weekend, recording nine strikeouts in Sunday’s game versus Miami (Ohio), tying her career high for a game.

Both Williams and Boyd will need to show out in the circle this weekend. The two are up against a deep Alabama pitching rotation, which was led by pitcher Jaala Torrence last weekend. Torrence was 3-0 in the Tuscaloosa Regional, tossing 18.2 shutout innings and striking out 17 batters.

On Thursday, Alabama announced the return of pitcher Montana Fouts, who hasn’t pitched since May 11 due to an injury. However, Fouts has dominated for Alabama this season, recording a 1.44 ERA, two perfect games and three no-hitters.

In order for the Cats to keep pace with Torrence and Fouts, both Williams and Boyd will need strong performances so that NU can keep within fighting distance.

NU will play its first game against Alabama on Friday at 7 p.m.

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Twitter: @rschlueter26

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