Evanston’s softball program deserved a better reward following a 40-year wait for ETHS to earn a regional tournament championship.
Instead, the Wildkits drew Class 4A defending state champion Oak Park-River Forest --- a team ranked 9th in the country by one website --- as their next foe.
The Huskies called an emphatic halt to the best season in ETHS history as winning pitcher Chardonnay Harris tossed a perfect game --- striking out all 12 Wildkits she faced --- in a 15-0 slaughter rule victory in the semifinals of the Niles North Sectional tournament Tuesday.
Oak Park (33-1) bashed four home runs and sent Evanston to the sidelines with a final record of 23-12.
The losers only hit two foul balls against the hard-throwing Harris, a lefty who was the winning pitcher in both state final games for the Huskies last spring.
Harris never threw more than a single ball to an Evanston hitter while mowing down 12 in a row in a dominating performance in the circle.
Megan Chambers, one of eight members of the ETHS Class of 2017 who brought the program to another level, ticked one pitch before striking out in the first inning and her sister Molly also got a piece of a riseball before fanning in the second.
“I wish I could have gotten another chance against her,” said Megan Chambers after the game was halted in the bottom of the fourth. “She’s definitely one of the best pitchers I’ve faced. She’s really good, and you can tell that she works hard at what she does.
“Ending the year with a loss is never fun. I hate losing more than anything, and this was not the way we wanted to go out. But now that it’s over, looking back at the entire season, it was really a great year.”
Oak Park, which scored in double figures in 21 of its 32 wins coming into Tuesday’s showdown, capitalized on a dropped fly ball with two outs in the second inning to score 5 times against ETHS junior hurler Grace Elwood.
Elwood allowed a line drive home run by Maeve Nelson following that miscue, and Nelson also slugged a 3-run homer against reliever Molly Chambers.
Olivia Glass, the No. 7 hitter, also homered twice against Chambers and the winners called a premature halt to the contest with their 8-run explosion in the third and two more in the fourth.
OPRF finished with a total of 13 hits and advanced to Saturday’s championship game against either Leyden or Lane Tech.
Members of the Class of 2017 were largely responsible for setting Evanston’s single season records for victories in back-to-back seasons, with 18 wins last year and 23 this spring, and pushed the program to respectability, including a tie for the Central Suburban League South division championship in 2016 to go with the regional crown this year.
Chambers is part of a class that included Gwyn Hodges, Jaden Janzen, Hannah Schaps, Katie Parcell, Lanai Mills, Kendra Klamm and Zoe Kurtzer, a class that experienced lots of losing before turning things around last season.
“Winning the the regional last Saturday was the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me. I didn’t even think about the fact that we had our prom coming up 5 hours later, it was so awesome,” Chambers said.
“I’ve been able to look back at what’s happened the last three years multiple times, and comparing this year to the last two, I truly feel blessed and privileged to be a part of this. From the first day of open gym my junior year, with a new head coach (Katie Perkins) coming in, I could see the intensity she had and the way she supported us. We started to build our confidence and that hard work made me realize that anything we set our minds to, we could accomplish. We really owe the whole coaching staff thanks for that.
“In the (postgame) circle we talked about our favorite moments from the season, and for me it was playing with all of my sisters on the team, even the ones I’m not related to.”
Freshman Molly Chambers emerged as the ace of the pitching staff and will join Elwood, catcher Meg Eisfelder, first baseman Lucy Hart and shortstop Caroline Job as returning starters who will try to build on the success of the past two seasons.
“What advice would I give the girls who are coming back? Every one on this team is good, and at this point they just have to believe in themselves,” said Megan Chambers. “You just have to keep focused and keep working hard. I have no doubts that they can do anything they put their minds to, and I’m looking forward to coming back here next year (at the sectional) and watching them.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.