Softball drops double header over weekend


Sophomore Allyson Hecht swings at bat on April 13, 2012 during a game against University of Buffalo.

By Matt Hopkinson

Softball had a rough road trip in its return to MAC play, as it dropped a double header to Ball State and a two-game series to Miami Ohio.

The Huskies (11-23, 1-5 MAC) could not match the offense in their two games against Ball State (22-11 7-0 MAC), as the Cardinals took an early lead in the first game. Ball State put up three runs in the bottom of the second inning to take the lead after junior catcher Erika Oswald had tied the game at one with a solo shot in the top of the frame.

The Huskies actually outhit the Cardinals, but could not get those runners home, as the first two batters in the lineup, Amanda Sheppard and Bryanna Phelan, had five hits between them and accounted for two of the three RBI’s and one of the three runs. The third through fifth spots in the lineup produced no hits.

The Cardinals made up for what they lacked in hits by using a patient approach, coaxing four walks from sophomore Emily Norton, NIU’s starting pitcher. Norton worked six innings, allowing five runs on six hits and four walks.

Her counterpart, Cardinal starter Nicole Steinbach, worked seven innings, giving up three runs on nine hits and no walks.

NIU head coach Christina Sutcliffe believes the first-game loss had more to do with an inability to get runners home than the pitching staff.

“Emily Norton did a great job keeping hitters off balance in the first game and giving us a chance to pull one out,” Sutcliffe said in a news release. “They have great hitters and we did a nice job making a pitch when we needed it. We just left too many runners in scoring position to pull it out.”

The second game of the double header was not as closely played as the first, and the pitching of NIU got knocked around early. Sophomore Jessica Sturm made the start for the Huskies and worked two and two-thirds innings, giving up four runs on four hits.

The Cardinals utilized the long ball in the second game, as a team hitting four on the day, including a pair of home runs by the first baseman Taylor Rager. NIU had a homerun from senior first baseman Jennifer Barnett.

NIU had cut the deficit to 4-2 after Barnett’s two-run homer in the top of the fourth but the Cardinals came back in the bottom of the sixth with five runs against Norton to go up 9-2, with the game ending with the same score.

Traveling to Miami of Ohio (11-19, 5-1 MAC) proved just as unwelcoming for NIU, as they dropped their two-game series against the RedHawks.

The first game featured one big inning for Miami which allowed it to stay on top the rest of the way. Miami plated on in the bottom of the third, and then plated four in the bottom of the fifth. This proved too much for NIU to overcome, as it scored one in the top of the sixth and held to just one in the top of the seventh. The Huskies threatened a comeback in the top of the seventh, with Sturm knocking in a run with a double and a walk setting up the chance for a tie with only one out. Paige Myers came in relief for the RedHawks to get the two outs and secure the save.

In the final game of the weekend, the Huskies dropped an extra inning affair on a walk-off homer by Miami. NIU went into the top of the seventh down by one, but tied it on junior Ashley Kopp’s solo home run to force Miami to bat in the bottom of the frame. Holding the Redhawks scoreless, NIU had a chance to take a lead in the top of the eighth with runners on second and third with no outs, but the Huskies could push no runners across.

RedHawks shortstop Kylie McChesney hit the game- and series-deciding hit as she homered over the left-field fence and sent NIU off without a win.

Sutcliffe was very proud of the come-back attitude and ability that her team showed in the finale of the weekend series.

“We battled from behind twice and showed a ton of fight,” Sutcliffe said in a news release. “We just need to figure out how to close the door defensively for seven innings.”