The Northern Illinois University softball team split its Friday doubleheader with Ball State at Mary M. Bell Field.
NIU (16-19, 4-4) opened the day with a 2-0 victory in a pitcher’s duel, but saw its comeback fall short when Ball State’s (21-14, 2-2) Emily Dabkowski hit a two-out grand slam in the top of the seventh.
“Our pitchers did a good job keeping their major hitter’s in check and kept them off balance,” said NIU head coach Christina Sutcliffe.
“This is a tough line up to pitch to. They have a lot of firepower. To be able to pull the one game out and almost pull the second one out is good. The walks in the second game killed us. Outside of that, they did a good job against a huge offensive powerhouse.”
Jessica Sturm (Wichita, Kan./Goddard) was brilliant in the pitcher’s circle in the first game. The junior southpaw threw a complete game shutout, allowing two hits and two walks, while striking out six.
NIU manufactured a run in the bottom of the third to take a 1-0 lead. Ashley Kopp (Burr Ridge, Ill./Hinsdale South) led off the inning with a double to centerfield and was sacrificed over to third by Kali Kosakowski (Elgin, Ill./St. Edward). Bryanna Phelan (Coal City, Ill./Coal City) then singled to shortstop to drive in Kopp.
The Huskies added to their lead in the next inning when Sturm helped her own cause with an RBI double to right center to drive in Kristyn Barrett (Monticello, Ill./Monticello) and give NIU a 2-0 advantage.
“Having that second run going into an inning where you just get one runner on, knowing that the home just makes it even rather than putting them ahead, you can’t put a number on how big a deal that is,” Sutcliffe said.
Sturm and the NIU defense did the rest, holding the Ball State offense in check the final three innings to secure the win.
In game two, the Huskies rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth. Unfortunately, they were unable to hold off the Cardinal offense in the top of the seventh.
It was a rough start for Sturm in the second contest, allowing two runs in the top of the first to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. They added another run in the top of the third on a lead-off home run for a three-run advantage.
Following a two-out walk, Rebecca Rupard (Normal, Ill./Normal West) came in to pitch for Sturm. The freshman right-hander kept Ball State at bay for the next three-and-a-third innings giving the Huskies a chance to come back.
NIU scored its first run of the game when Rupard singled up the middle to score Kopp from third. A two-out RBI single by Phelan in the bottom of the sixth tied the game up.
However, a two-out walk, a single and another walk in the top of the seventh loaded the bases for the Cardinals.
Dabkowski then deposited Rupard’s offering over the left field fence and give Ball State a 7-3 lead. The Huskies scored a run in the bottom of the seventh, but were unable to continue the rally.
The Huskies return to action today, when NIU plays host to Miami in a doubleheader at Mary M. Bell Field. First pitch for game one is scheduled for 2 p.m. CT with the second game to follow.
For more information on NIU softball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.