Evanston was spoiled this spring. Because while the temperatures weren't scorching, Northwestern softball was.
The last time the Wildcats were in the NCAA Softball Tournament Super Regionals was 2008. Head coach Kate Drohan was in her seventh year at the helm back then. The school was wrapping up a four-year streak of excellence that saw them play in the Women's College World Series twice, and finish as runners-up in 2006.
At the time, Drohan probably wasn't expecting that it'd take 11 more years to finish that far. But what a year 2019 turned out to be.
It's true: Northwestern (47-13) fell short of the World Series this weekend, losing to top-ranked Oklahoma (54-3) in Norman on Friday and Saturday 3-0 and 8-0. It was a painful way for the No. 16 'Cats to go out. The Sooners had already won against them twice in March. They didn't allow a single run in all four games. You don't win three titles this decade without doing something right.
But that can't take away what the Wildcats achieved this season, and what they're poised to achieve in the future.
Northwestern won 20 games in a row from late March to early May, and went undefeated for almost all of conference play. They hosted a regional, reserved for the top teams in the country, and advanced against adversity from a tough Louisville team.
And what's ridiculous is that there's so much time to do even greater things, as the Wildcats should return most of their key players in next year. Seniors Morgan Nelson and Lily Novak depart, but the rest of the starting lineup is intact. That includes five current first-years who can keep on developing, and a group of junior and senior players who can be leaders for an incoming top-25 recruiting class.
So long as the weather is bearable next spring, there's no excuse to not go out and watch this team. But even if it's 40 degrees, the Wildcats will probably be on fire anyways.
A barrage of Oklahoma home runs marked game two, a strong statement by a team that went unbeaten for 41 games this year. Five different players went yard for the Sooners, including USA Softball player-of-the-year finalist Sydney Romero. Romero went 3-for-5 on the day, and her team totaled 12 hits and just three strikeouts.
Danielle Williams (31-8) was looking to build on her encouraging performance on Friday but was quickly run out after just over two innings, giving up four hits (two homers), five earned runs and three walks. Kenna Wilkey took over for Williams in the third inning, but she also took a beating with eight hits and three earned runs.
For the second day in a row, the Wildcats' offense was turned to ice by Oklahoma's pitching. Mariah Lopez (18-1) allowed just two hits and two walks in nearly five innings, while Shannon Saile followed up to seal the 8-0 win with just one allowed baserunner from a hit-by-pitch.
Morgan Nelson's single in the first inning was a hopeful sign for the Wildcats, but dreams of offense faded as the team never reached past first base safely. Nikki Cuchran had the team's only other hit in the fourth inning when the ball dropped just right of the foul line into fair territory.
In a much closer pitching duel between Williams and Oklahoma's Giselle "G" Juarez (26-1), the two teams combined for just five hits. Williams had six strikeouts in the circle, allowing three hits, two earned runs and four hits. Juarez meanwhile had 11 strikeouts, giving up two runs and two walks.
The Sooners struck early in the first with an RBI double, but Williams left runners on all three bases with a strikeout, ending the inning at 1-0. It took until the fifth inning for Oklahoma to get another hit, but a pair of doubles helped bring in another two runs. The third run was unearned after Mac Dunlap was unable to contain a ground ball at third base for the last out of the inning.
Cuchran and Rachel Lewis had Northwestern's two hits on the day in the first and sixth innings, respectively. Both Lewis and Maeve Nelson reached third base during the game, but the Wildcats were unable to capitalize on the chances.
Game stats and details provided by StatMonitr