Huskies split opening day of San Diego State Tournament


Marco Sotelo Avila

Junior Emily Dato pitches during the Huskie’s first game against Bradley University softball in Sept. 2022. This game was a double header, and the team’s fifth game of the fall season. (Marco Sotelo Avila | Northern Star)

By Ethan Gonzales and Alex Crowe

DeKALB – The Huskies softball team traveled to San Diego, California, for its first weekend tournament of the year and split its first two games against the University of Memphis and No. 22 Arizona State University.

NIU was led by freshman left fielder Ally Rodriguez, who went 2-for-3 with one run, one walk and one RBI (run batted in) against the Tigers. Rodriguez also stole one base in the Huskies’ 5-4 win over Memphis. 

The story of the game was the amount of runners left on base, with Memphis leaving nine runners while NIU left eight. Both teams had opportunities to blow the game open, but ultimately could not bring runners home.

Senior second baseman Sam Mallinder led the Huskies in RBIs with two. Junior catcher Ellis Erickson and senior shortstop Kelly Walinski both drove in one run each.

On the other side of the ball, Huskie junior pitcher Emily Dato tossed a scoreless first four innings with two strikeouts and three walks. 

Dato ran into trouble in the fifth inning, allowing three Memphis runs to score and get the Tigers back within two. Dato finished with a line of 4.2 innings pitched, nine hits allowed, three earned runs, three walks and two strikeouts. 

Dato was relieved by freshman pitcher Lily Cassell in the fifth inning, who was making her first appearance in a Huskie uniform. Cassell allowed just one unearned run on one hit in her 2.1 innings of work, and notched her first collegiate career save. 

The Huskies wasted no time getting on the board, plating three runs in the first inning thanks to a fielder’s choice RBI by Walinski and a two RBI single by Mallinder. 

NIU extended the lead the next inning when a triple by freshman utility player Cara Cruthers and a walk by Rodrigeuz led to a double steal, which plated another NIU run. 

A third inning triple by freshman outfielder Fiona Crane led to another NIU run after a sacrifice bunt from junior catcher and outfielder Ellis Erickson plated Crane. 

Memphis added three runs in the fifth and one more in the sixth, but NIU survived the Tigers’ comeback attempt for a 5-4 season-opening victory. 

After a brief break, NIU dropped a heartbreaker to No. 22 Arizona State, who won via a walk-off double by Sun Devil graduate outfielder Yannira Acuña in the bottom of the seventh inning. 


The second matchup of the day was more of a pitcher duel, each team only mustering five hits in the seven innings. Cassell got the nod in the pitcher’s circle and tossed four innings of three-hit ball in NIU’s 4-3 loss. 

NIU pitchers finished the two-game series holding opponents to a .278 batting average against them. 

Cassell finished the two-game set with a line of 6.1 innings pitched, four hits allowed, three runs allowed (two earned runs), one walk and two strikeouts. 

NIU was led at the plate by Cruthers, who hit an RBI single in the third inning, and Walinski, who hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning. Cruthers finished the two-game day with hits on two of her six at bats, while Walinski drove in a pair of runs on four at bats.

Other NIU hits against Arizona State came from sophomore middle infielder and outfielder Kacie Quick, Mallinder, Crane and Erickson. 

The Huskies got off to a rough start, allowing two Sun Devil runs to come across in the first inning. Cruthers’ third inning single got NIU within a run, and Walinski’s sacrifice fly evened the game at 2-2 in the fifth inning. 

The very next at bat after Walinski’s sacrifice fly, a Sun Devil error allowed junior outfielder Courtney James to score and give NIU a 3-2 lead. 

The lead held until the seventh inning. A Sun Devil solo home run tied the game late, and Acuña drove in the winning run on a double to the left-center field gap to seal the 4-3 walk-off win. After splitting their first games of the season, head coach Christina Sutcliffe was satisfied with her team’s performance on opening day. 

For our first day out, our team couldn’t have had a better outing,” Sutcliffe said via NIU Athletics. “We executed the little things, and our bench was impactful. Our pitching staff did a great job working off each other and keeping our opponents off balance.”