Northwestern’s Softball MVP: Danielle Williams

By Adam Beck

After a slow start to the 2023 campaign, the ‘Cats dominated Big Ten play, posting a 20-3 conference record, including clinching both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. Northwestern had contributions from everyone in its lineup: Angela Zedak hit for power; Jordyn Rudd for RBIs; and Skyler Shellmeyer slapped her way on base.

But one player in Coach Drohan’s squad rose above the rest: Danielle Williams. Williams earned First Team All-Big Ten honors in 2023, finishing her career in the Northwestern record books first in wins (106), fourth in strikeouts (1,123) and fifth in complete games (84), shutouts (32) and innings pitched (866.0).

In her fifth season in Evanston, Northwestern’s ace saw a dip in usage, but her stuff didn’t falter. Williams led the ‘Cats with 164 innings pitched (IP), finishing with a team-best 2.22 ERA and 196 K’s.

After struggling to start the year, Williams brought her ERA below three by mid-April and never looked back. Some highlights from Williams’ Big Ten regular season include a scoreless 11 K, 5.0 IP performance against Illinois in early April as well as a complete game shutout against Rutgers to end the regular season. In conference play, she finished first in opposing batting average (.179), third in IP (73.0) and batters struck out (94) and second in wins (12) among qualifying Big Ten pitchers.

But Williams found another gear in postseason play, helping the ‘Cats fight deep into May. For example, Northwestern’s star didn’t give up an earned run against Indiana in the Big Ten tournament championship game. Her four hits allowed in 7.0 IP kept a quiet ‘Cats offense hanging around, allowing Maeve Nelson to walk things off for Northwestern in the bottom of the seventh.

But the NCAA Tournament is where Williams shined. In the Evanston Regional, Williams’ elite changeup led Northwestern to wins against Eastern Illinois, Kentucky and Miami (OH). Her nasty offspeed stuff confused batters left and right as Williams racked up the swings and misses. After ten strikeouts in a complete game shutout against Eastern Illinois, Williams followed it up with six strikeouts in each of her next two outings.

Up a run against Miami in the regionals, Williams was clutch too, getting out of a no-outs bases loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh, punching Northwestern’s ticket to the Tuscaloosa Super Regional.

And although Northwestern wasn’t able to claw its way past Alabama, Williams’ play in the super regionals gave the ‘Cats a chance. Surrendering only one run in seven innings, Williams powered Northwestern to a Game 1 victory.

However with the ‘Cats only scoring a combined three runs in Game 2 and 3 against the Crimson Tide, Williams’ 9.1 IP, 8 K’s and 4 ERs over the course of the next two games wasn’t enough to send Northwestern back to the Women’s College World Series.

Williams’ talent throughout her time in Evanston always made her a go-to; however, in her fifth season, Williams’ leadership, grit and filthy changeup helped Northwestern turn a slow start into a successful season.