Cardiac ‘Cats: Northwestern Softball’s Top Comebacks of 2022
By Logan Schiciano
Northwestern softball is headed to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2007. After the ‘Cats bested Arizona State in a thrilling, three-game set over the weekend, Logan Schiciano takes a look at where Northwestern’s dramatic super regional victories stack up amongst its best come-from-behind wins from its 2022 season.
#5. Rudd walks it off against Michigan
The Michigan Wolverines came to Evanston in early April for the first time since 2011 and the top-25 showdown did not disappoint. Northwestern came into the first game of the series looking to extend its 12-game winning streak but that was in jeopardy early after Michigan scored three times in the first two innings.
However, Danielle Williams held the Wolverines’ bats in check from there, letting Northwestern’s offense do its thing. Maeve Nelson got the Wildcats on the board in the bottom of the second with a solo shot to left field, but Northwestern still trailed 3-1 heading into the sixth.
That’s when the heart of Northwestern’s batting order took control. With no outs, Rachel Lewis banged a long home run off of Welsh Ryan Arena to pull Northwestern within one. Then, Jordan Rudd followed with a home run of her own to level the score. After these back-to-back bombs, neither team was able to break through and the game headed to extras.
Williams continued to do wonders in the circle – pitching a complete game and striking out 16 batters, just one shy of her career high. In the bottom of the ninth, the ‘Cats loaded the bases for Rudd, who put the ball in play and reached on an infield single. The check-swing hit was good enough to plate Ayana Linsey and the ‘Cats took the game 4-3 – their first home win over Michigan since 2009.
#4. Dingers fuel comeback in Bloomington
In the midst of a crucial five-game road swing against Big Ten opponents, Northwestern’s pitching struggled early in the second game of a three-game road set against Indiana. Lauren Dvorak got the start and surrendered four runs. Sydney Supple followed and allowed three, as the Wildcats trailed the Hoosiers 7-3 entering the fifth inning.
Once again, the middle of the lineup brought the ‘Cats back. Rudd and Nelson both reached base, giving way to Nikki Cuchran. The senior first-baseman delivered with a three-run dinger, but Northwestern still trailed 7-6. Cuchran’s clutch hit was part of a massive weekend during which she drove in seven runs on five hits, including two triples. But the comeback was not complete until freshman Grace Nieto sent a ball over the wall in dead center field – her first career home run in conference play.
With the score evened, Head Coach Kate Drohan inserted Williams into the ballgame and she did not disappoint, calming the Indiana bats and allowing just one earned run over four innings of work. Northwestern wasn’t doing much offensively either, until a six-run explosion in the ninth, headlined by a two-run double by Hannah Cady that broke the tie. The Wildcats won 13-8 and would go on to sweep the series in Bloomington.
#3. Williams delivers in desert marathon
Battling 100 degree temperature and a star pitcher in Mac Morgan, Northwestern’s offense was overmatched in the first game of its super regional series against Arizona State. The ‘Cats had just two hits over the first five innings and on the other side, the Sun Devils tagged Williams for three solo home runs to take a 3-0 lead.
Northwestern turned to its all-time leader in home runs for answers and she delivered. In the top of the sixth, Lewis drilled a two-run blast to center field to put Northwestern on the board. It was the second long ball of the postseason for Lewis, who is playing her final season for the Wildcats. But things still looked bleak for Northwestern, down by one with one out in the seventh. Cady changed that with one swing, cracking a pitch from Marissa Shculd over the wall to knot the score at three.
The Sun Devils loaded the bases against Williams in the bottom half of the frame but could not plate the winning run, sending the game to extras.
Pitching dominated in innings eight through 10, with each team mustering just one hit. Williams soared over 100 pitches, finishing with 179 by the game’s end. In the 11th, Northwestern scored the go-ahead run thanks to an RBI groundout from Angela Zedak. Williams then worked around a leadoff single by Jessica Puk to secure the 4-3 victory for the ‘Cats.
The main story late was the longevity of the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, who pitched all 11 innings and struck out nine Sun Devils along the way. With a short bullpen behind her, Williams threw 430 pitches and all but 2.2 innings over the three-game series.
#2. Nelson puts the ‘Cats on the map
Retreating all the way to mid-February and the St. Pete-Clearwater Elite Invite, Northwestern battled then-No. 3 UCLA in its biggest test of the season so far and showed up in a big way. The Wildcats came back not once, but twice in the contest, establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with in 2022.
The Bruins jumped out to an early 2-0 lead over the opening five frames, but Cuchran got the Wildcats going with an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth. Northwestern tied it up an inning later, when UCLA ace Megan Faraimo allowed her first home run of the year to Lewis.
But the Bruins didn’t cave. Instead, they responded in extras with two runs, including a Kinsley Washington dinger in the top of the eighth. It looked like UCLA had the win in the bag up 4-2 with two outs in the bottom of the inning and two strikes on the ‘Cats catcher Rudd. She had other ideas, lining a pitch from Faraino up the middle to score Sammy Stanley from third. The very next batter Nelson drilled a 1-2 pitch to dead center field for a three-run walk-off home run to bury the Bruins 6-4.
It was Northwestern’s first win against a top-3 team since March 25, 2016, when the ‘Cats took down No. 2 Michigan.
#1. Cardiac ‘Cats punch their ticket to OKC
Northwestern saved its biggest comeback of the year for its most important game of the season: the decisive series finale against Arizona State. The ‘Cats had not won a game when trailing by five or more runs in 2022, but Sunday’s super regional contest was special.
Williams got the ball for the third straight day for Northwestern and labored out of the gate. She allowed the games first five runs, including a leadoff homerun to Alynah Torres and a back-breaking three-run bomb from Arizona State’s Emily Cazares in the bottom of the third. With Dvorak lurking in the bullpen, Williams wiggled out of further trouble and handed things off to the ‘Cats’ bats.
In the top of the fourth, Northwestern capitalized on some sloppy play from the Sun Devils, scratching two across on a throwing error by shortstop Torres. A few batters later, Rudd pulled Northwestern within a run with a two-run single.
The next inning, Cady wiped the slate clean with a game-tying solo home run – her second game-tying blast of the series. The ‘Cats took the lead for good in the sixth by way of a Nelson RBI single, and put the nail in the coffin in the seventh with two more runs.
Williams defied all odds, lasting all seven innings. She allowed just one hit over the final four frames and struck out seven. With the potential winning run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh, Williams got Jazmyn Rollin to foul-out to Cady at third, sending Northwestern to the Women’s College World series for the sixth time in program history and first time in 15 years.