A walk-off two-run homer by Central Michigan’s Trista Cox in the bottom of the 11th inning broke a 2-2 tie and ended the NIU’s tournament run.
The Huskies, who have been adept at coming back late in games, tied the game in the top of the seventh. Amanda Sheppard (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest) began the rally with a two-out two-strike single up the middle. Nicole Gremillion (Missouri City, Texas/Elkins) doubled to left centerfield to drive in Sheppard and tie the game, 2-2.
“Coming back, literally with one strike left in the game and be able to tie it up and go into extra innings is just a huge accomplishment,” said NIU head coach Christina Sutcliffe. “I’m glad they [Central Michigan] earned it and it came down to a hit and not defensive blunders on our end.
“I just kept telling them, get to the championship game and adrenaline will take over. I think we saw that today.
NIU was unable to take advantage of its best scoring opportunity in extra innings.
A lead-off double by Shelby Miller (Ottawa, Kan./Ottawa) put her in scoring position to open the top of the eighth inning. A bunt single by Jessica Sturm put runners at the corners with no outs. However, Ashley Kopp (Burr Ridge, Ill./Hinsdale South) popped out, Emily Norton (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest) struck out and Erika Oswald (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South) flied out to centerfield.
Central Michigan (33-18) opened a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI single up the middle by Brogan Darwin to score Macy Merchant, who reached on a Huskie error, then stole second to move into scoring position.
The Huskies (28-30), who beat Ball State, 3-2, earlier in the day to advance to the championship game, tied the game, 1-1, in the top of the fourth when Kopp hit her team-leading eighth home run over the left field fence. CarolAnn Sexauer of Central Michigan answered with a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth to retake the lead, 2-1.
Gremillion led the way for the Huskies at the plate and in the field. She went 2-for-5 with an RBI and made a pair of spectacular catches in left field. Kopp finished the day 1-for-4 with an RBI and run scored earned All-Tournament Team honors, along with Norton and Sheppard.
NIU will return all but two members of this year’s team next season. While she’s excited for the future, Sutcliffe will miss seniors Sheppard and Jennifer Barnett (Indianapolis, Ind./Roncalli).
“Everybody’s coming back but the two,” Sutcliffe said. “That being said, those two are irreplaceable. What JB and Shep have done for this team this season is impossible to put into words. I’ll really miss them.”
For more information on NIU softball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.