After taking their first regional championship in more than a decade with an impressive comeback effort last weekend against Louisville, the Wildcats ran out of magic.
16th-ranked Northwestern (47-13) fell 3-0 and 8-0 to Oklahoma (54-3) on Friday and Saturday, knocking them out of the NCAA Tournament. The dominant Sooners did not allow NU to score once in the 26 innings they played against them this season (including two regular season games).
Behind a solid start from freshman phenom Danielle Williams, the Wildcats kept pace with the #1 team in the country for much of the Norman Super Regional’s first game. Williams, one of three finalists for the national freshman of the year award, limited Oklahoma to only a single run in the first inning despite walking three and giving up a double to cleanup hitter Jocelyn Alo before shutting the Sooners down in the second, third, and fourth.
But Northwestern couldn’t cash in on their opportunities. The ‘Cats stranded two runners in the first, and left Maeve Nelson on third in the fourth, each time having opportunities for the middle of the lineup with runners in scoring position.
Thanks to a pair of doubles and a rare error from defensive specialist Mac Dunlap, the Sooners, extended their lead to 3-0. And after NU left Rachel Lewis on third with nobody out following her leadoff double in the top of the ensuing inning, they did not threaten again.
With their backs up against the wall on Saturday, the Wildcats sent Williams back to the circle. But by this point, it seemed, the explosive Oklahoma offense had her figured out.
The Sooners chased her in the third, behind impressive continued production from Sydney Romero, a finalist for national player of the year. Sophomore Kenna Wilkey didn’t fare much better, and the Wildcats continued to struggle from the plate, this time against Mariah Lopez.
Northwestern ended up mustering just four hits on the weekend. Meanwhile, Oklahoma had five home runs in the final game alone, setting their single-season team record for long balls at 108 and counting. The Sooners cruised to their fourth straight Women’s College World Series appearance and 13th in program history.
The 16th-seeded Wildcats took an incredible step with their regional championship win this past weekend, and it was certainly a tough task to go into a packed Marita Hynes Field in Norman and come away with even a single win against the best team in the country.
However, Northwestern and head coach Kate Drohan will certainly be disappointed with having to send off their seniors in such nondescript fashion. Luckily, NU loses just two players going into next season, though both were key pieces of this year’s team.
Morgan Nelson, the starting left fielder, ends her impressive Wildcat career with a 34-game on-base streak still intact after walking in the first game of the weekend and singling in the second. The streak is the longest by a Northwestern player in seven years.
Nelson’s experience at the plate and in the field will certainly be missed, though she will probably remain around the team: the Scottsdale, Arizona native’s sister, Makenna, will join the ‘Cats next season as an incoming freshman.
Starting first baseman and former Big Ten All-Defensive Team honoree Lily Novak is the other departure. Novak struggled at the plate during the postseason, but came up with crucial hits time and again during her Northwestern career and provided a crucial calming influence defensively.
Despite losing Nelson and Novak, the Wildcats will return an incredible amount of experience from a team that broke ground, doing something that hadn’t been done since Obama was first elected.
This weekend will leave a bad taste in their mouths. But Northwestern lost multiple times to only two teams this season over the course of 60 total games. and both (7th-ranked Minnesota and, of course, Oklahoma) ended up reaching the WCWS.
With eight returning starters, and just one of them, Morgan Newport, due to graduate next year, the future is blindingly bright in Evanston.