It’s been 14 years since Northwestern softball last appeared in the Women’s College World Series and 13 since the ’Cats last won the Big Ten. While the team has perpetually knocked on the door of success over the past two fully-played seasons (the team made regionals in 2018 and 2019 and looked decent before the cancellation of the 2020 season), there have been questions on whether Northwestern can finally make the jump to national contention.
While the questions may not have been answered just yet, they’re certainly about to be. Northwestern softball (18-6, third in Big Ten) has the potential to make this a season to remember and perhaps become a national contender. Fantastic pitching, amazing batting and an ability to pull victory out of the jaws of defeat make this team a thrill to write about.
But what makes this a team to watch? Is it the legendary coaching duo of Kate and Caryl Drohan, who secured their record-breaking 641st victory this season? Is it their fantastic pitching core of Danielle Williams and Lauren Boyd? Or is it countless fantastic moments at the plate? Why don’t we try to analyze and find out?
Simply put, Northwestern is one of the best teams in the country, and a top contender in the Big Ten. After starting the season with nine straight wins and racing out to an 18-6 record, the ’Cats have dominated teams like Ohio State (13-10, 7th B1G), Indiana (11-13, 8th B1G) and Wisconsin (7-16, 11th B1G), putting them a step above over teams.
Northwestern, simply put, is a dominant squad; of their 18 wins, 13 of them have been by four runs or more. The team runs circles around their opponents, scoring 143 runs to their opponents’ 59. With fantastic defense on the diamond and an unbelievable .296 team batting average (good for second in the Big Ten), the team is a two-way train that can stop you in your tracks and run you into them.
Northwestern has also had a career’s worth of highlights in just a half a season. While the team is not the best power-hitting squad in the conference, they do know how to dominate when the timing’s right. One of the most dramatic wins this season came with a 6-5 win over Wisconsin, in which Northwestern came back from 5-3 down in the seventh and walked off the Badgers with a dramatic two-run double by Sydney Supple; the team’s first victory at home in two years.
One victory that’ll ring throughout the history books is the ’Cats 15-7 win over Wisconsin, which allowed head coaches Kate and Caryl Drohan to gain their 641st win as a coaching duo. This enabled them to pass Sharon J Drysdale as the winningest coaches in program history. The duo, who first joined the team in 2002 to replace Drysdale, are looking to take the team back to the College World Series.
This team’s got a flair for the dramatic and are history in the making, but they’ve also got the attention of national watchers. The ’Cats are currently ranked 22nd in the AP Top 25 poll, with some of the best games of the season ahead of them. But who’s leading them in these efforts?
For the Pitch:
Softball’s a bit different than baseball, especially when it comes to pitching. While baseball pitchers throw overhand and often overwork their shoulders to a point of needing insane rest, softball pitchers throw with a powerful windmill underhand, allowing them to appear in more games and dominate further. As a result, fewer pitchers are often used by teams, and they can often appear as extra bench players for the squad.
No player better represents this idea than Danielle Williams, one of the best pitchers in college softball today and the undisputed ace of the Northwestern Wildcats. Starting 12 games and appearing in 14, Williams has posted a 10-2 record and a 1.67 ERA- good for ninth in the Big Ten. Williams is a reliable stopgap for Northwestern and will be critical for Northwestern in their play against tough offenses.
Also on the starting staff is the reliable Lauren Boyd, who’s pitched in 44 innings and started six games of her own, posting a 2.86 ERA for the season and a 3-1 record to boot. Behind Boyd and Williams, however, is a reliable pen of Sydney Supple and Morgan Newport, who often take over late in games and allow relief for the starting staff out of the bullpen. Newport especially is one of the best bullpen pitchers in the Big Ten, posting a 1.35 ERA good for sixth in the Big Ten.
Notable of these pitchers is their ability to provide sufficient offense on the other side of the ball. Williams has become a critical part of Northwestern’s offense even while starring in the circle, posting a .242 batting average and knocking in eight runs on eight hits. Supple is also a worthy clutch hitter, hitting the aforementioned walk off double.
And yet, they’re not even the best scoring players on this squad.
Knocking on the Door:
Saying Northwestern’s offense is really good is an understatement. Scoring an aforementioned 143 runs in just 24 games, the ’Cats strike fear in opposing pitchers everywhere with their fantastic ability to make contact and get on base.
Leading Northwestern in this effort is junior center-fielder Skyler Shellmeyer. Often playing as a spark plug in the batting lineup, Shellmeyer posted an unbelievable .422 BA over 24 games played, sitting at third in the Big Ten. Her uncanny ability to get on base has been critical for Northwestern as they head to the top of the order, a true hitters’ alley.
No player better represents this than right-fielder Morgan Newport, who has a team high 18 RBIs and 27 hits, as well as a stellar .342 batting average. Newport can also be described as the “Babe Ruth” of the squad, swatting four home runs, tied for second highest total in the Big Ten. Newport is also currently ranked as the 12th best batter in the Big Ten, and when you consider the shots she makes, it’s easy to see why:
Rounding out the lineup are junior catcher Jordyn Rudd, who currently sits at 15th in the Big Ten with a .370 batting average and 16 RBIs, and senior second baseman Rachel Lewis, who has been shining in the leadoff role: 23 hits and a .333 batting average, good for 15th in the Big Ten. Lewis has added four home runs of her own, a true display of power and speed all around.
You may have noticed that all these players boast a batting average greater than .333, which is absolutely insane for a team. For reference, that means that every three chances they will each get at least one hit.
Only one question remains: how long will it last?
Like their counterparts on the baseball team, Northwestern softball is in an interesting spot, due to a lack of “quality” opponents. The team dominated their competition early in the season, winning their first five series before dropping four straight games to Minnesota (19-5, 2nd B1G). Unfortunately for Northwestern, their five series victories come against Big Ten basement dwellers: their highest series win is against Ohio State, who currently sits at seventh in the conference.
After their most recent series, however, there remain some questions for Northwestern. For one, their offense seemed to struggle against good pitching, as Minnesota was able to hold the ’Cats to just nine runs scored over four games. Despite locking the Golden Gophers in pitching duels on multiple occasions, the offense was just not able to overcome dominance from the pitching circle. If Northwestern wants to go far in the postseason, they’ll have to perform at a consistent level offensively, especially to match their pitcher’s production.
After beginning the season with five straight series wins, Northwestern has begun their most difficult stretch of the season, playing conference contenders in each weekend in April. The ’Cats will play Iowa (14-9, 5th in B1G) next weekend, Michigan (16-4, 1st in B1G) the following and Illinois (15-9, 4th in B1G) to cap it all off. If the ’Cats want to have another storied postseason, they’ll have to wake up their bats and kick it into high gear in April.
With a fantastic pitching staff and an offense that’s potent when it’s clicking, Northwestern softball has the potential to become the story of the Big Ten in 2021 and rock Sharon J Drysdale Field once again. Let’s see how far this one’s hit.