Monday, May 20, 2019
Softball Cards fall twice to Northwestern in Evanston Regional -- MONDAY CARDINAL COUPLE
CARDINAL SOFTBALL SEASON ENDS WITH 7-0, 4-3 LOSSES TO NORTHWESTERN
A tough Sunday for the Louisville Softball Cards and their fans in Evanston,IL yesterday.
Northwestern needed to win two games on Sunday to win their regional and they were able to do that. One of those wins was very solid...the other was greatly aided by a blown call on the diamond.
After a two-hour delay because of rain in Evanston, the squads finally took the field for the first game. Louisville was facing freshman lefty Danielle Williams and the Big 10 Freshman of the Year was on her game in the circle during the first contest.
The Wildcats put together two walks and a sacrifice fly in the top of the first inning for a run against Cardinal starter Megan Hensley and that lead held for three innings in a pitcher's duel. Hensley had a no-hitter going, despite trailing 1-0 when she was replaced by freshman Taylor Roby in the circle.
(Yes...I got your texts, Cardinal Couple readers and fans. I can't tell you why the change in the circle happened. It might have been pre-planned, since Hensley hadn't thrown in two weeks. I am definitely not the one to question any coaching decision in any sport. Coach Aprile certainly must have had her reasons, so you need to trust in your coaches and their decisions and I won't second-guess them.)
The change in throwers didn't go well. Northwestern responded with a four-hit, four run inning to take a 5-0 lead.
With Williams continuing to keep the Cards off-balance at bat with her deceptive and effective change-up. Louisville never put a run across the plate. Williams struck out 10 UofL batters in six innings of work and the Cards produced just two hits for the game. Hensley eventually returned to the circle for Louisville and Northwestern added runs in the sixth and seventh innings in the shutout.
Williams returned to the circle for Northwestern in game two and the Cards countered with a Danielle of their own...sophomore Danielle Watson. Watson had handled the Wildcats on Saturday with a 2-1 win and, despite the turn in momentum, you had to feel good about Louisville's chances in the seventh game of the regional.
And, we saw a pitcher's duel for the first three innings. Due to a lack of communication from ESPN on where the game was being shown, I missed the Cards first at-bat. Eventually finding it on my television and on ESPNU instead of my laptop (where I had watched the first game) I picked up the action in the bottom of the first inning.
Thanks...four-letter network...for throwing me and other fans unable to attend the game a change-up.
Northwestern struck first, in the bottom of the fourth, when Morgan Newport connected on a two-RBI double. Watson was beginning to show a little discomfort in her throwing hand (she mentioned later it was a blister on her finger) but got out of the jam, allowing just two runs.
The Cards had an answer in the top of the fifth. Caitlin Ferguson worked Williams for a walk. Kyra Snyder singled to center and Rebecca Chung got hit by a pitch. Bases loaded, no outs. Pinch-hitter Darrianne Hale went down on a strike-out, but the last pitch eluded the Northwestern catcher and Ferguson scored. Celene Funke laid down a sacrifice bunt, trying to score Snyder, but the play at home resulted in Snyder being called out. Sidney Melton's single brought Chung home and the Cards had tied it up at 2-2. Megan Hensley drew a walk to load the bases again, but Williams got out of the jam by getting an inning-ending strike out.
It was Northwestern's turn in the bottom of the fifth. With Watson having trouble finding the strike zone because of the blistered finger, the Cats benefited from two walks, a hit batter and two RBI single to center. It was now 4-2 after five.
The Cards threatened again in the top of the sixth. Maddy Newman beat out an infield single and moved to second on Ferguson's single to center. Snyder followed with a single to left, but, in a totally-blown call...Newman was called out at third on the relay throw.
Video evidence, shown time and time again on ESPN U, clearly showed that the Northwestern third baseman's foot was OFF THE BAG when she caught the throw from left field. Newman should have been called safe. The third base umpire blew the call. Holly Aprile charged onto the field, protested the call, asked the home plate umpire for a reversal, but the call was upheld. Aprile was furious and had every right in the world to be.
There is no video replay in college softball. Newman was safe, video evidence backed that up and the archaic NCAA Softball rules that don't allow video reviews hurt the Cards badly. Instead of the bases loaded and no outs, the situation now stood at runners on first and second and one out.
Talk about a situation-changer! A back-breaker, for sure. The Cards still had at-bats remaining but couldn't get Ferguson or Snyder home and left the inning scoreless.
Celene Funke made an incredible catch in left-center in the bottom of the sixth to prevent any further Wildcat damage but fell awkwardly on her shoulder during the diving grab and actually popped the shoulder out of socket. She was able to get it back in place after a very nervous-for-Cardinal fans and players stoppage of action and did not have to leave the game. It was still 4-2 when the Cards came to bat in the top of the seventh.
Funke was the first batter for UofL and heroically drove a one-handed shot down the right-field line for a triple. She scored on a Melton grounder to get Louisville back within one run. Unfortunately, the Cards could not muster another base-runner or run in the rest of the inning and Northwestern took the 4-3 win.
A tough way to end the season, for sure. We usually try to stay away from ref-baiting here, as a rule...and maybe I ranted a bit too strongly, so I blame the system. A system set up by the NCAA, for not having the simplest of solutions in play.
It's readily available and the wrong call was clearly demonstrated on national TV.
Video review is used in many other NCAA Division I sports. It was certainly there for the asking yesterday. I blame the NCAA, but, hey...I guess I'm going to be standing in a long line to register a complaint like that.
An incredible season ends for the Louisville Softball squad. For the first time in history, the Cards won their first two games in NCAA Regional action. Credit to this team that embraced new coach Holly Aprile, bought in to her style and philosophy and pulled some very nice upsets of nationally ranked teams this season.
A magnificent job by Holly and her staff in getting this group of student-athletes together, getting them to believe in themselves and their abilities and...despite a couple of season-ending injuries to key players...the team rallied around each other and fulfilled their mission to create an unforgettable 2019 season.
Hensley and Melton will be greatly missed next season, no doubt, but both had fantastic careers as Louisville Softball student-athletes. The future looks very bright for 2020 UofL Softball, with seven starters returning...plus depth in the circle and on the bench.
It's up to Funke, Roby, Watson, Snyder, Newman, Ferguson and Chung...plus the other returning Cards and the incoming freshmen to carry the torch now. Based on what we saw in 2019, there is no doubt that fire will continue to burn brightly and softball success for Louisville will continue to grow. 3/4th of the infield returns, 2/3rd of the outfield and strong arms in the circle and behind the plate are back. The future looks quite bright, indeed.
It's been a wonderful pleasure and honor to follow and report to you this season the successes of these battling "Ulmer" Cards and I truly look forward to next season.
THEY SAID IT
Post game remarks below from Danielle Watson, Celene Funke and Holly Aprile.
LINK: POST GAME FUNKE, WATSON AND APRILE