Panthers? Late Rallies Doom Bears in Doubleheader Sweep
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- One of the Missouri Valley Conference’s hottest teams continued its winning ways, as the UNI Panthers used a pair of big seventh innings to post a doubleheader sweep of the Missouri State Bears Saturday (March 14) afternoon at Killian Softball Stadium. UNI scored six times in the last inning of game one to record a 12-5 win, then plated eight seventh-inning runs in the nightcap to overcome a two-run deficit and come away with an 11-5 victory on the opening day of Missouri Valley Conference softball action for both squads.
After Missouri State (9-9, 0-2 MVC) took a 5-3 lead into the seventh inning in game two, Rachel Gerking would draw a one-out, bases-loaded walk to force in the tying run, and Morgan Paulson cleared the bases with a single down the leftfield line to complete the Panthers’ comeback from a five-run deficit. UNI would go on to score three more times on a total of seven hits in the inning, also taking advantage of two Missouri State errors to break the game open.
The resulting six-run lead was more than enough for UNI’s Jaye Hutcheson (2-0), who worked 6 2/3 scoreless innings in relief after taking over for Melissa Tillett in the bottom of the first. Hutcheson, who had pitched just four innings on the season entering the game, allowed only three hits while fanning three Bears.
The Bears jumped all over Tillett early in the game, scoring five times in the first to seize the lead. Jenna Schwark doubled to left-center, and Christa Gammon followed with a bunt single to initiate the MSU scoring threat. Jessie Smith delivered an RBI-single to left, before Ashley Knehans drove in two more runs with a line-drive single down the leftfield line. Finally, Jana Shewmaker put the finishing touches on the Bears’ big inning with her first homer of the season, a two-run, opposite-field shot to right to make it a 5-0 game.
Benefitting from a Missouri State fielding error, the Panthers cut into the Bears’ lead with three unearned runs in the top of the third. Hutcheson, meanwhile, held the Bears in check, allowing just a third-inning double by Smith and a Gammon single in the fifth to give UNI a chance at a comeback.
In game one, UNI wasted little time in setting the offensive tone of the day, as the Panthers struck for two runs in the top of the first inning. Leadoff hitter Megan Machovec drew a walk to start the rally and after a sacrifice by Daigh and a base hit by Jen Larsen, Gerking brought home the first run of the contest with a solid single to center. Paulson rolled into an inning-ending 3-6 double play, but Daigh scored ahead of Smith’s tag at second base to make it a 2-0 game.
The Bears answered right back, scoring twice on run-scoring extra-base hits to pull even with the Panthers. Schwark reached first on a fielding error by the UNI shortstop to lead-off the frame, advanced to second on Gammons’ sacrifice bunt, then came around on Smith’s triple that bounded off the centerfield wall. Jen Carr followed with a double in the right-centerfield gap that chased Smith home with the Bears’ second run of the inning.
The Panthers scored a single run in the top of the third on Daigh’s first career home run, a line drive that easily cleared the rightfield wall. UNI opened up a four run lead following frame, scoring three times after the second out was recorded to extend its lead to 6-2. Brittney Balduf lined an RBI-single to left-center, and Hannah Borschel delivered a two-run double to right-center off MSU starter Lauren McGinley (5-2).
Both offenses came alive in the seventh inning, combining for nine runs in the frame. UNI once again struck with two outs, this time breaking the game wide open with a six-run rally, highlighted by Balduf’s grand slam to left.
MSU tallied three runs in their last at-bat, getting run-scoring hits from Gammon, Smith and Knehans before Larsen retired Raeven Replogle to wrap up her seventh win of the season.
Missouri State and UNI will conclude their three-game series Sunday (March 15) with a single contest that is slated for a Noon first pitch at Killian Softball Stadium.