Softball drops six of nine games over spring break

By Frank Gogola

Softball picked up three wins during spring break, but it also dropped six games during that stretch.

The Huskies (9-11) posted a 1-2 record at the Shocker Softball Classic March 8 and 9 in Wichita, Kan., dropped a doubleheader Tuesday in Kansas City, Mo., and split four games at the Jayhawk Invitational Friday and Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.

Wichita State Tournament

Against the San Diego State Aztecs March 8, the Huskies took a 7-2 lead into the sixth inning, but the tides changed. The Aztecs scored six runs – all with two outs – on six hits and three walks, and they went on to win, 8-7.

“They weren’t really killing our pitching,” said head coach Christina Sutcliffe. “They were just finding holes. No errors, just base hits that found holes.”

In the March 9 meeting with North Dakota, the Huskies put together an all-around effort to beat North Dakota, 10-3. Five different batters drove in runs and pitcher Allyson Hecht threw a complete-game, giving up three runs (one earned) on seven hits.

“Our offense is definitely capable of getting into rhythm and getting some confidence,” Sutcliffe said. “Allyson [Hecht] got ahead of her batters. She made key pitches to get out of innings. She really dominated their hitters.”

To close out the Shocker Softball Classic March 9, the Huskies were dropped, 8-3, by host team Wichita State. The Huskies batted .280 (7-25), while the Shockers batted .481 (13-27).

“I think our offense is definitely rolling, getting into a rhythm,” Sutcliffe said. “Every weekend we’ve gotten better. But our room for improvement is communication and just having more instinct on the field. That comes with more practice and just trusting each other out on field and just being able to feel the game through.”

Missouri-Kansas City

In the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday, the Huskies and Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos were tied 1-1 heading to the sixth inning and 2-2 heading to the seventh inning. After the first two UMKC batters reached base in the bottom of the seventh inning, Cinda Ramos launched a three-run, walk-off home run to right center field on the first pitch she saw.

In the second game, the Kangaroos posted two runs in the bottom of the first inning; that would be all they needed. Kayti Grable drove in the only NIU run of the game with a RBI single in the top of the fourth inning, and the Huskies lost, 2-1.

“We definitely had way too many base running mistakes in both games,” Sutcliffe said. “That took us out of some of our scoring opportunities. We didn’t execute some positional plays and things that don’t show up in the box score.

“…We took too big of swings. We were putting the ball in the air. We need to just hit the ball through the infield. It was definitely a wake-up call for them.”

Jayhawk Invitational

The Huskies outhit the Jackson State Tigers, 14-8, and used a six-run fifth inning to down the Tigers, 8-4, Friday. Grable led the Huskies with three hits, and Jessica Sturm gave up two runs (one earned) on five hits in five innings pitched, improving to 5-3.

“The offense did a good job,” Sutcliffe said. “Kayti [Grable]led the way early. We did a really good job with driving the ball to the fence and waiting on pitches.”

In the second game Friday, the Huskies were pounced by the Kansas Jayhawks, the host team. Kansas put up 10 runs on 10 hits, and the Huskies managed two hits and zero runs before the mercy rule was applied at the top of the fifth inning.

“Their pitcher just absolutely dominated us, kept us off balance and guessing,” Sutcliffe. “Our outfield had a very good day defensively. … Our pitchers are still learning. They didn’t have a good day, but they’re continuing to grow within the game.”

The Huskies’ spring break concluded with two very different games Saturday.

In the opener vs. Jackson State, the Huskies pounded out 10 hits and beat the Tigers, 8-0, in six innings.

Grable and Shelby Miller each homered for NIU in the victory. Sturm improved to 6-3, surrendering zero runs on four hits and one walk in five innings pitched.

In their ninth and final game of spring break, the Huskies lost to No. 14 Nebraska, 10-2, in six innings.

“Their offense is what did us in,” Sutcliffe said. “Their pitching didn’t keep us off the board. We had a couple bad calls that could have gone another way, and we had runners on another inning and had our chances to score.”

Senior left fielder Nicole Gremillion hit a line drive down the first base line that was snagged by the Kansas first baseman to end the Huskies’ half of the sixth inning – with NIU trailing, 6-2, and with the bases loaded.

“Nicole [Gremillion] hit a liner down the line,” Sutcliffe said. “It could have easily cleared the bases.”

Sturm (6-4) took the loss for NIU.