The University Of Northern Iowa women’s softball headed south to Clearwater, Florida for spring break this week taking part in the USF Under Armour Classic. The Panthers enter the tournament with a 10-5 record on the season and are set to face a field of five opponents in three days which include Boston University, Central Connecticut State, Long Island University, Rutgers, and Canisius College.
The Panthers entered game one of the tournament Friday morning taking on the Terrier’s of Boston University. UNI stepped up to the plate to start the game getting underway what soon turned into a pitching dual. Trying to get the bats going, UNI was held hitless until the fourth inning. With one out in the inning senior Laura Turner stepped in the box connecting for a double to right center field which put the Panthers in scoring position. Despite the effort, UNI was unable to get Turner across the plate for a run.
Sophomore pitcher Jamie Fisher took the circle for the Panthers entering the game with a 5-0 record on the season and a 1.72 ERA. Fisher played excellent as usual retiring Boston University inning after inning scoreless. Despite a double and a walk in the first inning, Fisher was nearly perfect giving up just two hits in the entire game. Fisher kept the Terrier’s off the board as long as she could with the help of a tremendous defense. Senior Allison Galvin had a run saving snag as she robbed the Terrier’s of a homerun extending over the center field fence to come up with an out in the bottom of the third inning.
As the Panthers kept fighting to get a run on the board, their efforts began to pay off in the top of the sixth inning. Junior catcher Samantha Reimer advanced to base on a walk giving the Panther’s a base runner. Senior Leah Embrey came into the game entering as a pinch runner for Reimer. Senior Mackenzie Daigh then took the plate for UNI where she grounded out to the second basemen, but more importantly gave Embrey the chance to advance to second base. With a runner now in scoring position, designated hitter Laura Turner stepped up the plate giving the Panthers a long awaited hit they desperately needed. Connecting for her second hit of the game, Turner cashed in with a single this time to left field which advanced Embrey to third and just a base away from scoring a run to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. Hannah Borschel stepped up to the plate with runners at the corners; a site the Panthers had not seen all game. Finally getting her pitch Borschel connected for a fly ball deep into left field which gave Embrey a chance to try and tag home and put a run up for the Panthers. Embrey broke loose for the plate as soon as she got the signal. As the throw neared the plate, Embrey just inches away snuck under the throw putting the Panthers ahead giving them a 1-0 lead.
With Fisher still in the circle entering the bottom of the sixth the Panthers were no where near ready to give up the run they waited all game for. Allowing a bunt to sneak past the defense, Fisher wasted no more time in shutting down the Terrier’s bats. Fisher kept her stride and eventually finished off the seventh inning giving the Terrier’s of Boston their fifth loss on the season. Fisher improved to 6-0 on her season in this shutout victory where she faced twenty five batters, and allowed no runs, just two hits, and struck out eight in the process.
In game two of Friday’s matchups Northern Iowa took on the Blue Devils of Central Connecticut. The Panther’s Jaye Hutcheson entered the circle for the game where she nearly dominated from start to finish. A long hard fought game the senior pitcher from Marion, Iowa kept the Blue Devil’s off the scoreboard nearly the entire game.
At the plate the Panther’s had a tough time getting the bats going. Senior outfielder Hannah Borschel reached on base taking a pitch across her back in the first inning but that was all the Panther’s could find in the first inning. Borschel reached base in two of her three plate appearances walking to base in her second at bat and flying out to left field in her final at bat. With two outs in the third inning the Panther’s closest sign of runs came from freshmen Julia Hunter’s first at bat as she sent the Blue Devil’s center fielder back to the wall making a falling catch to save a homerun as she took out the fence.
In the circle, Hutcheson continued to impress as she retired the side inning after inning. Hutcheson remained hitless through her first five innings of play and allowed just two Blue Devil’s to reach base. At the plate the Panther’s faced a similar story from Central Connecticut’s own Laura Messina who was matching Hutcheson inning for inning. In the bottom of the sixth inning the Panther’s had work cut out for them holding the Blue Devil’s down. After letting a runner advance on a called strike three passed ball and followed by a runner advancing to first after getting hit by a pitch, the Panther’s got their first out of the inning from a sacrifice bunt that left the Blue Devil’s in scoring position.
Central Connecticut executed one final bunt that allowed a Blue Devil to cross the plate before the Panther’s retired the inning as they entered the seventh. As they entered the seventh inning neither pitcher in the gamed had yet to surrender a hit at this point.
Entering the top of the seventh with a 1-0 deficit the Panther’s needed a rally to get back in the game. Senior Courtney Dunker got the Panthers started with a pop fly to right field; with a little confusion in the Blue Devil’s defense the ball found its way to the grass as the Panther’s still had life. Following a fly ball to center field junior Melissa Walls took the plate with the Panther’s down to their final out as she advanced to base on a walk. Junior Haley Kreiner took her turn at the plate trying to continue the rally. With two outs and runner’s at first and second Haley cashed in with a single and a game tying RBI that would keep the Panther’s alive as they entered the bottom of the seventh.
Heading back into the circle senior Jaye Hutcheson trying to remain hitless found trouble early. With a liner to second basemen Julia Hunter the Panthers had an out but followed it surrendering three straight singles that led to a ground out game winning RBI as the Panthers fell 2-1 to the Blue Devils. Jay Hutcheson finished the game facing twenty eight batters, allowing just three hits, two runs, and striking out seven in the process. The Panther’s fall to 11-6 on the season following this loss and will see action again Saturday afternoon as they take on Long Island University and Canisius in games three and four of the USF Under Armour Classic.