NIU softball: Huskies sweep Valparaiso Crusaders

By Christopher Loggins

Softball got back on track with a doubleheader sweep of the Valparaiso Crusaders on Tuesday.

The win comes after a three-game skid in which the Huskies struggled to hold leads late in games. NIU was able to outscore the Crusaders 16-6 , holding leads that were never seriously threatened.

The Huskies (21-17, 5-3 MAC) won the first game against Valparaiso (9-27, 3-8 Horizon) by virtue of the run rule, having an eight-run lead and winning by a final score of 12-4 in just the fifth inning.

The second game was much closer, turning out to be a pitcher’s duel that went the distance but resulted in a 4-2 lead for the Huskies.

“Our defense played way better today,” said head coach Christina Sutcliffe. “I think we maybe just had one error each game; both of them were pretty tough errors. Our offense has been going for quite a while now. Both pitchers put out a good show today.”

Game 1

How it happened

The Huskies got the game going early with a five-hit, four-run inning, largely in part due to an array of hits, errors and a two-run home run by senior designated player Jessica Sturm.

In the top of the second inning, the Crusaders were able to fight back, scoring two runs and trimming the lead to just two runs heading into the bottom of the second.

NIU didn’t let up going into its second inning of hitting, scoring five runs on four hits and taking 9-2 lead through just two innings.

In the top of the fifth, Valparaiso put together another solid inning in which the Crusaders put two more runs up on the board. This was responded to with a three-run bottom of the fifth that put the game out of the Crusaders’ reach.

In the circle

Tara Thacker picked up her first win of the season for the Huskies, pitching all five innings and giving up all four runs, striking out three in the process.

“She’s settling in really nice,” Sutcliffe said. “Our pitching staff is going to compete until the end. It’s a battle for who’s going to get some innings right now, but we just try to play matchups with the three of them.”

The loss went to Ashlyn Montgomery as she pitched 3.2 innings and gave up seven runs on 12 hits with three walks for her sixth loss of the year.

At the plate

The combination of first baseman Kayti Grable, catcher Emily Naegele and Sturm went a combined 9-10 on the day, driving in a total of six runs for the Huskies.

For the Crusaders, designated player Mollie Lindeman 2-2 in a game in which they didn’t produce much offense.

Game 2

How it happened

The Huskies grabbed another early lead in game two after a first inning solo home run by Grable that pushed her team-leading total to nine on the season.

The Crusaders tied it up in the third, scoring on an RBI single by outfielder Kaitlyn Ranieri. The game remained close until NIU scored two more in the bottom of the fifth, holding its 4-2 lead for the remainder of the game.

In the circle

Freshman pitcher Keegan Hayes went the distance for the Huskies, pitching the complete game and giving up only two runs for her 11th win of the season.

“One of our main goals today was making the plays that matter,” Hayes said. “We made some good plays last weekend but not necessarily the greatest timing. Today we had really good timing when we made the big plays and it made a huge difference.”

Hayes credited conditioning as a factor in being able to pitch complete games without becoming too winded.

“We take really good care of our bodies,” Hayes said. “Coaches really stress taking care and getting rest, and we have great trainers, so it’s not too bad.”

Taylor Weissenhofer took the loss for Valparaiso, giving up four runs in six innings for her 10th loss of the season.

At the plate

Infielders Alaynie Woollard and Grable went deep for the Huskies, pushing their team-leading totals to eight and nine, respectively, on the season.

For the Crusaders, outfielder Ranieri came through again, going 2-2 with a run batted in in the loss.

Up next

The Huskies will face off against Miami (Ohio) in a doubleheader beginning at noon Friday in Oxford, Ohio, before playing another weekend series against Ball State starting 1 p.m. Saturday in Muncie, Indiana.