The Northern Illinois University softball team suffered an 11-6 loss to Buffalo in Wednesday’s first round game of the 2014 Mid-American Conference Softball Tournament at Firestone Stadium.
The Huskies’ (23-30) struggled to get off the field and Buffalo (28-20) took advantage, scoring a run in every inning, many of them coming with two outs. Emily Naegele (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest) provided the lone bright spot and much of the offense for NIU as she went 4-for-4 with five RBIs and came within a triple of hitting for the cycle.
“Neagele is on fire,” said NIU head coach Christina Sutcliffe. “She’s dialed in. We were in that game. Six runs is normally enough to win a game. Unfortunately we couldn’t put a zero up defensively.
“They just outhit us, plain and simple. Hats off to them and their offense for what they were able to do. If we see them again in this tournament, we just have to do a better job defensively.”
Buffalo opened the game’s scoring with four runs in the first inning. After the leadoff hitter reached, she was moved over to second on a sacrifice fly. The third Bull batter flied out and Huskie pitcher Jessica Sturm (Wichita, Kan./Goddard) was one out away from getting out of the first unscathed.
However, an RBI single by Heather Ryder tallied the first run of the game. After a single by Hayley Barrow put runners at the corners, a pair of Huskie errors on a hot shot by Ashton Earnhardt cleared the bases and gave the Bulls a 3-0 lead. Earnhardt scored on a single by Karly Neves to give Buffalo a 4-0 lead. A two-out RBI double in the bottom of the second gave the Bulls a 5-0 lead.
The Huskies got on the board in the top of the third on a Naegele single to right field to pull NIU within four runs. Unfortunately, the Bulls got the run back in the bottom of the third on a sacrifice fly.
A Nicole Gremillion (Missouri City, Texas/Elkins) sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth scored Sturm who led off the inning with a double and moved to third on a Buffalo error.
After Buffalo scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth and another in the fifth to go up 9-2, it appeared that the Bulls had taken command of the game.
However, the Huskies did a little two-out damage of their own. After a foul out and fly out, Bryanna Phelan (Coal City, Ill./Coal City) singled to left field and Gremillion and Kayti Grable (Santana, Calif./Santee) walked to load the bases for Naegele. The Huskie sophomore proved why she was a second-team All-MAC selection as she blasted the 2-2 pitch over the left field fence. Naegele’s first career grand slam pulled NIU to within three, 9-6.
Unfortunately, that would be as close as the Huskies would get. The Bulls added two more runs in the bottom of the sixth to go up 11-5.
The Huskies will face No. 3 seed Akron in their second game of the tournament Thursday. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT.
For more information on NIU softball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.