Title escapes NKU
By Ryan Clark
Enquirer staff writer
SALEM, Va. - There's a poster that hangs on the dugout wall back in Highland Heights, home of Northern Kentucky's softball team. There, scrawled for all to see, are the goals for this season's team.
Win the conference. Check.
Win the regionals. Check.
Win all home games. Check again.
Keep an overall 3.2 grade point average. Check.
Every goal was met, save the last one, the most important, the players say. They wanted a national championship.
It won't happen.
Senior Emily Breitholle, a pitcher from Fairfield, Ohio, realized it as she walked off the field, wiping tears from her eyes.
The No.1-ranked Norse (55-2) lost twice Sunday to two top 10 opponents, ending their season and their bid for the program's first NCAA Division II Championship.
Coming into the year, the Norse didn't know they would win 55 straight games.
Going undefeated wasn't a thought.
But it is one of the things they can take away from the most successful season in the softball program's history.
As the fans snapped photos of the team receiving its third-place trophy, and NKU's five departing seniors cried and hugged, they did gain perspective on the season and what they accomplished.
"It's very apparent we had a tremendous season," said junior second baseman Ricki Rothbauer, a Louisville native. "We're proud of what we've done."
That includes 55 consecutive wins, a national record, as well as producing three All-Americans and the Division II National Player of the Year in Crestwood native Krystal Lewallen, who finished the season pitching 32 wins, and losing only once.
After going to the championships last season, NKU lost twice in two days, both 1-0 contests. They were determined to do one thing this year.
"Our goal was to come back and win it all," Head Coach Kathy Stewart said, tears in her eyes. "What these players did was remarkable, and in a few weeks I guess, we'll see that. But we wanted to win it all here."
When it was over, Breitholle, who pitched in place of Lewallen Sunday, gathered with her teammates in right field. They sat, heads down. No one wanted to leave.
"It's definitely an awesome thing, going 55-0," Breitholle said. She paused. "Definitely."
Stephanie Leimbach, a senior outfielder from Hilliard, Ohio, said it may take longer to fully realize what they've done.
"We'll probably cry our eyes out for a while," she said. "Then, in a few weeks, we can see how much we've done."
For the fans who traveled to Salem, the accomplishments were very clear.
"They had a great year," said Bob May, who drove nine hours from his home in LaGrange, Ky., to watch the team. "I'm proud of them. The records they set this year will stand for a long, long time."
Even opposing coaches marveled.
"My God, they're a great team," said Lynn University Head Coach Thomas Macera, whose team gave the Norse their first defeat 1-0 Sunday. "And (Lewallen) is awesome."
Still, it was hard for some to comprehend it was over. After the first loss, the team looked disjointed in a 6-0 loss to Kennesaw State, committing four errors.
"We didn't finish like we had wanted to," Lewallen said. "But we'll deal with it."
"They'll realize what they've done," said Norse fan Roger Grine. "It'll just take time. It's hard right now."