Softball loses to top MAC contender

By Krystal Ward

DeKALB — Softball suffered its first series loss since April 4 when the Central Michigan University Chippewas defeated the Huskies in two of three games.

The Chippewas (30-13, 13-4 Mid-American Conference) took the first game Friday, 2-1, and won the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, 9-1. The Huskies (22-18, 10-8 MAC) took the final game of the series Saturday, 2-1.

Friday’s game — Central Michigan 2, NIU 1

Chippewas senior pitcher Rachael Knapp held the Huskies to three hits in the series opener, and NIU fell to Central Michigan, 2-1.

Knapp (17-7) had five strikeouts while giving up one earned run and one walk in seven innings pitched.

Junior pitcher Keegan Hayes (6-3) got the start for NIU and gave up two runs, both unearned, on five hits. Hayes struck out two batters and walked one batter.

Junior pitcher Tara Thacker came in to relieve Hayes and walked one batter in two innings.

NIU’s lone run came in the seventh inning when sophomore outfielder Jenna Van Geertry scored on a sacrifice fly from Bekah Harnish, junior catcher and infielder.

Both teams committed three errors, but NIU’s mistakes came back to hurt them in the end.

Head Coach Christina Sutcliffe said the team needs to clean things up and fight in the next games.

“We did a nice job getting runners on every inning and putting the pressure on. We just couldn’t get the clutch hit when we needed it,” Sutcliffe said. “When you’re playing the top team in the conference, you can’t give them runs defensively.”

Sophomore outfielder Allison Curtis reached base safely on the second Huskie error in the first inning. Curtis advanced to third base on a single and sacrifice fly and scored on a single through the left side by sophomore infielder Kayla Noch.

In the fifth inning with two on base and two outs remaining, the Chippewas tacked on one more run when junior outfielder Lacy Tolfree stole third base and scored on an errant throw from Harnish.

Saturday’s game one — Central Michigan 9, NIU 1

Saturday’s first game lasted five innings because of softball’s run rule. If a team is up by eight runs after five innings, then the game is over.

The Chippewas scored two runs in the first inning and added seven more runs between the third and fourth innings to take a 9-0 lead.

NIU was only able to score one run in its half of the fifth inning, and the game ended, giving the Chippewas a 9-1 win.

The Huskies had four hits and two errors. Central Michigan broke out for 10 hits and committed no errors.

Thacker took the loss, giving up two earned runs, on five hits, with two strikeouts and a walk through two innings.

Sophomore pitcher Alex Frenz pitched two innings and gave up three earned runs on five hits.

Junior pitcher Hanna Warren (10-5) won the game for the Chippewas, giving up one earned run on four hits in five innings.

Saturday’s game two — NIU 2, Central Michigan 1

The Huskies bounced back in the series finale and defeated the Chippewas, 2-1 to avoid the series sweep.

Senior first baseman Kayti Grable laid down a squeeze bunt in the third inning that scored sophomore outfielder Jessica Rio and advanced Harnish to second base.

Harnish and senior middle infielder Kali Kossakowski pulled off a double-steal with Harnish scoring from third base and Kossakowski reaching second base, and that was all the offense the Huskies needed.

“I think we played our best defense of the series in the last game,” Sutcliffe said. “Keegan and Tara continued to pitch as well as they did on Friday. We put the two together, and it resulted in a win.”

Hayes picked up the victory for the Huskies and gave up one earned run on three hits through four and 1/3 innings.

Thacker came in for relief of Hayes and gave up only a hit through two and 2/3 innings for her fourth save of the season.

Knapp took the loss for the Chippewas, giving up one earned run on five hits through seven innings.

NIU returns home Wednesday for a doubleheader with Valparaiso University. The first game is scheduled for 2 p.m. and the second game 4 p.m. at Mary M. Bell Field.