Softball blasts Western Michigan

By Frank Gogola

Softball stretched its winning streak to a season-long four games with a sweep of Western Michigan over the weekend.

The Huskies (15-16, 3-3 MAC) defeated the Western Michigan Broncos (11-23, 2-4 MAC), 10-1, in five innings via the run rule Saturday at Mary M. Bell Field. Sunday, they downed the Broncos, 6-1, for the sweep.

Game one

Junior pitcher Jessica Sturm (8-8) surrendered one run on two hits, one walk and one hit by pitch in the first inning. She got out of a bases-loaded jam to end the first inning and gave up only one hit while retiring five batters in a row twice in the final 4.1 innings.

“It was a rough first inning,” Sturm said. “I just realized that I needed to mix my pitches in and out instead of just throwing it right down the middle like I was in the beginning.”

Following a six-run second inning, the Huskies put the run rule into effect in the fourth inning when senior shortstop Shelby Miller launched a grand slam to right-center field, pushing the Huskies’ lead to nine runs, 10-1.

“The whole game, we take little bits and pieces from everybody’s at-bat,” Miller said. “We told each other to scoot up on the plate, she’s only throwing outside. I adjusted to that in my last at-bat so I could get a good swing with some good power behind it, and it worked out.”

On the day, the Huskies collected eight hits, and five batters drove in at least one run apiece.

“Our kids offensively did a good job at not letting the umpire’s strike zone get in their heads,” said head coach Christina Sutcliffe. “[They] stayed patient.”

Game two

The Huskies got the first run on the board when Miller doubled over the center fielder’s head, driving in senior pinch runner Erika Oswald in the fourth inning. Sophomore catcher Emily Naegele followed with an RBI double to right-center field, upping the NIU lead to 2-0.

The Huskies pushed their lead to 3-0 when freshman Becca Rupard laid down a slow-rolling sacrifice bunt that drove in junior right fielder Bryanna Phelan from third base. Phelan had led off the fifth inning with a triple over the right fielder’s head.

The Broncos got their only run when freshman Ivy Schaaf led off the sixth inning with a solo home run to right-center field. They had their chance to score early, but Sturm (9-8) got out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning after she walked two batters and allowed a single to load the bases with two outs.

“We’ve been trying to … get off the field when we can and eliminate the big inning,” Sutcliffe said. “I think that getting out of that jam but … to see what she did after giving up the home run, being able to get three quick outs after giving up that home run because they could have very easily in a 3-1 game gained the momentum and taken the game away from us at that point, but she settled in and quieted them right back down.”

The Huskies went up 6-1 when Sturm drove in Miller and Naegele with a triple to left-center field in the sixth inning and pinch runner Kaitlyn Barrett scored when Phelan reached on an error.

The Huskies didn’t commit an error in the field. Senior left fielder Nicole Gremillion made two diving catches, and senior third baseman Ashley Kopp grabbed a foul ball down the third-base line to end the first inning.

“Our outfield played phenomenal [Sunday],” Sutcliffe said. “I don’t think we had a single mistake all game, defensively. [We] just had a lot of communication, and our outfield made some great plays. Ash made a really good play in the first inning [on a] foul [ball] against the fence; that kind of set the tone.”