Panthers go 1-4 in Hillenbrand Invitational

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The UNI softball team traveled to Arizona for the Hillenbrand Invitational where they went 1-4 on Friday, Feb. 14 through Sunday, Feb. 16.

“This week was a definite learning experience for our team,” said head coach Ryan Jacobs. “And typically every year we try to schedule us a really good environment, a tough environment, tough competition, really early in the season, to really kind of get a gauge on our team. And this weekend was that weekend.”

The Panthers started out the tournament Friday night going 0-2 with back to back games against the Arizona Wildcats and the Oklahoma Sooners. The Panthers fell 7-6 against the Wildcats in a tough eight-inning game.

Sammey Bunch led them offensively, starting the scoring in the first inning with a leadoff home run. After a 6-6 tie, the Wildcats stole the win in the remaining two innings. The Panthers fell to the Sooners 10-2 that same night.

The Panthers dealt with a tough schedule again on day two of the invitational, playing the first and last games of the day against Bryant and Long Beach State.

“The situation didn’t get too big for them, the adversity didn’t get too magnified to where they made a big deal about it, and we were able to play at a high level all weekend long in a great environment, great facility, and against great competition,” said coach Jacobs.

Northern Iowa gained a 6-0 lead in the first inning against Bryant and held that lead until the eighth where they took the 13-5 win. Emma Valainis led the Panthers at bat, going 1-for-2 on the day.

The Purple and Gold returned to the field later that night for a close game against Long Beach State where they fell 8-7. The Panthers got on the board in the first inning again with three runs. The game was tied at five in the third inning, but Long Beach pulled ahead towards the end to retrieve the one-run win.

A rematch against the Oklahoma Sooners on the final day of the invitational ended 8-0 for the Panthers. Hannah Kelley led the team going 1-for-3 with a double.

“It was unbelievable to see our team compete like that, and answer every single adverse situation that we had,” said coach Jacobs.

Next, the Panthers will travel to Conway, Arkansas to compete in the Adam Brown Memorial Shamrock Classic from Friday, Feb. 28 through Sunday, March 1.