Panthers fo 2-3 in Alabama Tournament

After going 2-3 over the weekend in Alabama, the Panthers now move to 7-8 on the 2021 season.

COLIN HORNING, Sports Editor

Over the weekend of March 5-7, the UNI softball team ventured down to Tuscaloosa, Ala. for the Alabama Tournament, hosted by the University of Alabama. The weekend tournament consisted of a five-game matchup against three different teams for the Panthers, with doubleheaders against South Alabama on March 5 and Alabama on March 6, and a single game against Kent State on March 7. The Panthers had an up-and-down series of games, winning one of two against South Alabama, losing both to Alabama and beating Kent State en route to a 2-3 record over the weekend.

The tournament kicked off at 11 a.m. on March 5 with the Panthers squaring off against the South Alabama Jaguars in their first of two games scheduled for the day. The Jaguars got on the board first in the second inning from a two-run home run by right fielder Victoria Ortiz. They then tacked on four more runs in the fourth inning and another in the fifth, opening up a 7-0 by the sixth inning. Northern Iowa scratched across a run off of a Sammey Bunch solo homer in the sixth, but South Alabama’s bats proved to be too much for the Panthers in game one, with a final of 9-2.

A strong pitching performance by UNI starter Kailyn Packard turned the momentum for the Panthers in game two. She pitched all seven innings, giving up only one run and six hits for the entire contest. The UNI bats gave Packard solid run support, as they put up five runs in the game, which would be more than enough to secure the win. Six different Panthers recorded a hit, including left fielder Kamryn Shaffer, who hit a solo home run in the third inning of the game.

Saturday’s matchup saw the Panthers face the nation’s No. 2 softball team and host school University of Alabama. The Crimson Tide came in with a record of 17-0 on the year, yet the Panthers proved to be a tough test. The Tide got out to a 3-0 lead in game one on Saturday, with all three runs coming in the fourth inning. UNI bounced back with a two-run home run from Sammey Bunch in the top of the fifth, trimming the Alabama lead to 3-2.The Crimson Tide answered with two more in their half of the fifth to extend their lead. The Panthers fought back again, with pinch runner Maggie Erpelding scoring on an Alabama fielding error. However, this would be all they could muster as the nation’s second-best team prevailed 5-3.

Game two on Saturday against Alabama was one to forget for UNI. The Panther women could only muster two hits for the game, with the Tide offense exploding for eight runs on eight hits en route to the 8-0 shutout victory.

The fifth and final game of the weekend pitted the Panthers against the Golden Flashes of Kent State. This one was a nailbiter, with UNI ultimately coming out victorious with the score of 5-4. The Panthers got on the board early with a Sammey Bunch solo home run in the first inning. The Flashes answered with two runs in their half of the fourth, taking a 2-1 lead. In the fifth, UNI center fielder Madison Parks went deep for a two-run homer, swinging the lead back to UNI at 3-2. However, Kent State regained the lead in the sixth when Carlee Selle drove in two with a single to left field, putting the Flashes back up 4-3 with one inning left to play. Not to be outdone, following a walk to leadoff batter Madison Parks, UNI’s Sammey Bunch connected with her second homer of the game, giving the Panthers a 5-4 lead in dramatic fashion. They would close the door on Kent State in the bottom of the seventh and take the 5-4 victory.

The 2-3 series moves the UNI record to 7-8 on the year. The UNI softball team will next play in the Kansas Tournament in Lawrence, Kan. hosted by the University of Kansas on March 12 and 13. The Panthers will play two games against Kansas and two games against South Dakota State in the four-game weekend series.