The Northern Illinois University softball team kept its tournament title hopes alive in a 6-1 victory over Akron in its second game of the 2014 Mid-American Conference Softball Tournament at Firestone Stadium Thursday.
The Huskie (24-30) offense wasted little time jumping on top of the No. 3 seed Akron Zips (27-15) putting up a three-spot in the first inning. Pitcher Jessica Sturm (Wichita, Kan./Goddard) did the rest, holding Akron to one run on six hits to pick up the win.
“Jess threw really well,” said NIU head coach Christina Sutcliffe. “She did a really good job of jamming them up today. I don’t know if we did that yesterday or this was just a better match up for her. I’m not really sure. Our kids are hungry. They’re not ready to be done.”
Bryanna Phelan (Coal City, Ill./Coal City) got things going with a lead-off single and Nicole Gremillion (Missouri City, Texas/Elkins) put runners at the corners as Phelan reached third on Gremillion’s single up the middle. Kayti Grable (Santana, Calif./Santee) was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.
Emily Naegele (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest), who went 4-for-4 with five RBIs yesterday, she drove in the Huskies’ first run of the game when she coaxed a walk. Shelby Miller (Ottawa, Kan./Ottawa) singled to center to score Gremillion. Unfortunately, Grable was thrown out at home on the play. Rebecca Rupard (Normal, Ill./Normal West) gave NIU a 3-0 lead on an infield single to score Naegele from third.
“I think that was huge for us,” Sutcliffe said. “I told them before the game, I want one goal in this game and that’s to win the first inning. If we can do that and stay even the rest of the game, we’ll come out winning.”
Staked to a three-run lead, Sturm did the rest, keeping the Zips offense in check. Her biggest test came in the top of the second when Akron put runners at first and second with one out. A pop up to the shortstop, a pop foul to the catcher ended the threat.
NIU tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the sixth to put the game out of reach for Akron. Miller led off the inning with a single to center and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Erika Oswald (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South). After moving to third on a wild pitch, she scored on a errant throw by the catcher in a pick off attempt.
Gremillion delivered the big blow in the inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, the senior left fielder delivered a two-run single to center field to put NIU up, 6-0. Akron scored its lone run of the game with a two out double to left field.
Sturm was very effective in the pitcher’s circle against the Zips’ line up, facing the minimum in three of seven innings pitched.
Gremillion led the way for the Huskie offense, going 2-for-3 with two RBIs, a run scored and a walk. She also made some great plays with her glove in the field. Phelan did a nice job of setting the table from the lead off spot, going 2-for-4 with a run scored. Rupard was a perfect 3-for-3 with a run scored and a RBI.
The Huskies will face No. 1 seed Ball State in their third game of the tournament today. First pitch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. CT.
For more information on NIU softball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.