Northwestern softball has certainly been busy since February.
It’s been a season of chest bumping, jumping and dancing; a season of smashing records and run-ruling galore; a season of graduate right fielder Rachel Lewis demolishing home runs and of senior pitcher Danielle Williams carrying the team when it mattered most.
Soon, the road will end. After 14 years without a Women’s College World Series berth, the Wildcats once again punched their ticket to the biggest show in college softball, heading to Oklahoma City. NU will take on No. 1 Oklahoma on Thursday.
But for the Wildcats, the focus isn’t on the Sooners’ dominance this season.
“(We) think about going out there and being ourselves more than anything,” senior catcher Jordyn Rudd said. “That’s worked for us all year, and nothing changes when you get here. It’s the same game, the same everything.”
Every game played in the Women’s College World Series is difficult, no matter the opponent, coach Kate Drohan said. But the quantity of Oklahoma fans will be unique to the matchup. Ahead of Thursday, Drohan said she’s worked to prepare the team to stay focused despite the crowds.
Lewis said NU has played in difficult environments throughout the year, but has “soaked it in” and had fun doing so.
The Wildcats took center stage in an away game as recently as last weekend, when they defeated Arizona State at the Tempe Super Regional. However, Lewis said the team had to “reel it in” during game three and keep its focus, which it plans to do again in Oklahoma City.
NU enters the Women’s College World Series off a thrilling appearance in Tempe, Arizona, delivering two comeback wins to upset the No. 8 Sun Devils. Staring down a 5-0 deficit in the third inning of game three, the Wildcats stormed back to book their trip to Oklahoma City.
“We’ve been relentless all year, and we weren’t going to go down in that way,” Lewis said. “We weren’t going to lay down and die. We wanted to leave it all on the field, and that’s what we did.”
Williams starred for NU in Tempe, pitching just more than 23 of 26 innings played. She has pitched 91% of the Wildcats’ innings in the NCAA Tournament, outpacing the rest of the tournament field by a double-digit margin.
Drohan acknowledged the conversation about Williams’ high pitch count, but said everyone in NU’s program knows she is a “warrior” who is prepared for what lies ahead.
Williams will likely play a key role as the Wildcats take on the Sooners. Oklahoma holds the highest batting average in the NCAA, and redshirt senior utility player Jocelyn Alo ranks second nationally in individual batting average. Lewis, the Big Ten Player of the Year, and Rudd, who went 4-for-5 with three RBI Sundays, also look to make their mark at the tournament.
Thursday’s Women’s College World Series matchup has been a long time coming for Drohan, who led NU to consecutive World Series appearances in 2006 and 2007.
She said she had a feeling this team was special before the season started, and its responses to adversity along the way only strengthened the team. Now, she said the Wildcats are ready for the ultimate test against Oklahoma.
“We’re going to give everything we have in battle,” Drohan said. “We’ve played a lot of high level games, and we’ll be prepared for it and give it our best.”
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