A three-run seventh proved to be the difference Saturday as Western Michigan handed the Northern Illinois University softball team a 7-6 setback in Mid-American Conference action at Mary M. Bell Field.
“They continued to play to according to their strengths and when push came to shove they did a nice job of staying in it and putting the pressure on us,” said NIU head coach Christina Sutcliffe on Western Michigan. “Unfortunately, we didn’t make the plays when it mattered.
“You can always get better at playing when the game’s on the line. This is what the MAC’s all about, one-run games. There aren’t too many blowouts in our conference. We have to learn to play under pressure. Better now than come May.”
Northern Illinois lead much of the game, scoring two runs in the first, three in the third and one in the fifth to take a 6-2 lead into the sixth inning. Sophomore Emily Norton (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest) held the Broncos (10-17, 1-1) in check for five innings, allowing two runs on five hits.
However, the Western Michigan offense got to Norton in the sixth. A lead-off double by Caity Pixley started the rally. A hit batter and two-out walk loaded the bases. Pixley scored from third on a wild pitch for the first run of the inning, while a single by Diane Patterson pulled WMU to within a run and chased Norton from the game.
Jessica Sturm (Wichita, Kan./Goddard) came in to get the final out of the sixth and faced the Broncos in the top of the seventh. The Broncos capitalized on a pair of Huskie errors to take the lead in the seventh, scoring three runs on two hits and two errors.
A hit batter, error and single loaded the bases for Western Michigan in the top of the seventh with no outs. Pixley pulled the Broncos to within a run on her RBI single and a Marleen Rodriguez ground out scored the tying run. The lead Bronco run scored a Huskie error.
Northern Illinois had a chance to tie the game in bottom of the inning as Erika Oswald (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South) moved to third after stealing second and advancing to third on a wild pitch with no outs. However four Huskie batters failed to drive her in and NIU suffered its first MAC loss of the season.
Jennifer Barnett (Indianapolis, Ind./Roncalli) led the way for the NIU offense, going 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run scored. Shelby Miller (Ottawa, Kan./Ottawa) went 1-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored.
The Huskies return to the field Wednesday when NIU faces travels to Bloomington to take on Illinois State. First pitch is set for at 4 p.m.; fans can follow all the action live, via Gametracker.
For more information on NIU softball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.