Sometimes, things have a funny way of rebounding after a hard stretch. Somebody can have a terrible day filled with bad luck, only to pick the winning lottery ticket out of sheer chance. Perhaps someone missed their bus, only to find the love of their life waiting at the bus stop with them. Life can flip on a dime these days, and for Northwestern softball (21-7 B1G), they were hoping that their luck would change dramatically after dropping four straight games to Minnesota (22-6 B1G).
Maybe it wasn’t luck, but the ’Cats certainly got a boost in their series against Iowa, winning three of four games in convincing fashion. The true highlight of the weekend came from junior pitcher Danielle Williams, who pitched a seven-inning perfect game — meaning that not a single batter she faced was able to get on base, whether by hit, walk or defensive error — on April 16. It was the first perfect game for Northwestern softball since 2005, and the first complete perfect game since 1984.
Nobody’s perfect, unless you’re Danielle Williams.— Northwestern Softball (@NUSBcats) April 17, 2021
No runs, no hits, no errors and no runners on base for the first seven-inning perfect game for @B1Gsoftball since 2009 & for the ‘Cats since 1984. #GoCats | #FightForVictory pic.twitter.com/EqePRDDkIP
Williams’ defensive gem was only half of the story for Northwestern this weekend, with the other half being the bats finally waking up after scoring just nine runs in four games against Minnesota. In four games against Iowa, the ’Cats scored 25 runs, including 23 over the first four games. Leading the charge in this series was graduate utility player Morgan Newport, who totaled four hits, six RBIs and a home run, and junior shortstop Maeve Nelson, who whacked six hits, five RBIs and a home run.
Iowa was led in their efforts this series by first-year utility player Lindy Milkowski, who knocked in two hits and five runs, and sophomore right fielder Nia Carter, who whacked four hits and two runs batted in.
The series began with the defensive gem from Williams, who faced 21 batters and retired 21 in return. It was a fantastic effort for the ’Cats, who struggled to get their offense cooking early, despite a first-inning home run from senior second baseman Rachel Lewis. Undeterred by the lack of offense, however, Williams continued to stifle the Iowa bats, picking up eight strikeouts in the effort, and Northwestern would eventually pay it back in full, scoring six runs over the last two innings to put a cap on the perfect day: a touchdown victory, 7-0.
The second game was almost a disaster for Northwestern, as they gave up five runs to Iowa in the first inning, and went down by as much as 7-1 in the fifth inning. The ’Cats, however, refused to quit, and staged a comeback for the ages. After a pair of two-out home runs from Nelson and sophomore left-fielder Angela Zedak in the fifth, Northwestern exploded for five runs in the sixth, thanks to some timely errors from Iowa and some fantastic baserunning from Lewis to tie it up:
Zedak would then come up and smack a two-run double to right-center, gaining the ’Cats the lead and completing the 8-0 stretch for Northwestern. Not wanting to take chances, Northwestern once again turned to Williams to pick up the save and finish the game. She did not disappoint, throwing two more perfect innings; after a rough start, the ’Cats had shown perseverance and grit to win the game 9-7.
The third game was not nearly as dramatic, as Northwestern took their first lead of the match with a four-run third and never looked back, winning the game 7-4. The lead was built on fantastic small ball play from the aforementioned stars: Newport, Nelson and Zedak each picked up RBIs on line drives into the outfield, with sophomore utility player Sydney Supple picking up one as well. Starting her second game of the series, Williams held the Hawkeyes scoreless through five innings and allowed the ’Cats to build a 7-0 run, before giving up three runs in the sixth and being relieved in the circle by Supple, who went 1.1 innings and allowed just a hit.
Of course, the hot streak did eventually run out for Northwestern, as Iowa captured the final game from the ’Cats, 5-2. The Hawkeyes built a 4-0 lead in the first inning off Northwestern junior pitcher Lauren Dvorak, who allowed three hits and four runs to score. First-year bullpen ace Lauren Boyd did well in relief, allowing just one run over 5.2 innings, but the offense simply could not get going in this one, despite two runs scored by Zedak, including a home run.
Despite dropping the final game, the Iowa series provided some much needed bounce to the Wildcats after being swept by Minnesota, both in team confidence and in the standings. Northwestern now sits just one game back of the Gophers in the Big Ten standings, and holds a significant edge over their closest competitors: Illinois (18-10 B1G) and Iowa (15-13 B1G). Their toughest test is yet to come, however, as the ’Cats will travel to play conference-leading No. 20 Michigan (21-4 B1G) this weekend in Ann Arbor.
Hopefully, that one can be even more perfect.