Special season for UNI softball: a recap so far

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Following last season’s NCAA tournament at-large birth, the UNI softball team has been playing exceptionally well so far throughout the 2022 season. They will look to get back to the big stage this season.

DAVID WARRINGTON

The UNI softball program is having a very special season. Just one year removed from making the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid for the first time, they have proven to be even better this year. With a record of 23-11, they are a full 12 games above .500, and they have a nearly-perfect record of 14-1 in Missouri Valley Conference play, putting them comfortably in first place. Winners of 10 in a row following their home doubleheader sweep against Drake, several things have gone right to make this such a special season for the Panthers.

Two key players for UNI have been a pair of freshmen. Both Mya Dodge and Kylee Sanders, just a year removed from playing high school softball, have been critical pieces for this Panther team. Dodge, the starting designated player who also spends some time in the outfield, bats in the leadoff spot, and she leads the team with a .377 batting average. This is also the sixth-best in the conference. She also has hit 12 home runs, tied for the most on the team as well as the conference. Sanders, the starting shortstop, has also had a special freshman season. Her .326 batting average is second-highest on the team, and she is also tied for the team-lead in doubles with eight.

The powerful bat of Emmy Wells, UNI’s sophomore catcher, has also been critical. Wells has 12 home runs, tied atop the team and conference with Dodge, and has come on very strong recently. On April 3, Wells hit a walk-off home run in the eighth inning to defeat Missouri State 1-0. Ever since this critical home run, Wells has been unstoppable. Her batting average, previously just slightly above .200, has ballooned to .289, and she also leads the team with 27 RBIs. Wells is also critical behind the plate, providing leadership and helping lead UNI’s talented pitchers throughout the season.

Speaking of pitchers, they are another reason why UNI has been so successful. The dynamic duo of Kailyn Packard and Samantha Heyer have been fantastic. Their earned-run averages (ERAs) of 1.55 and 1.86, respectively, are the best and second-best in the entire conference. In fact, there is only one other player with an ERA below two in the MVC. Packard has been UNI’s ace, starting 19 games with a record of 14-4, all 14 of those wins complete-game outings. Heyer, on the other hand, has done more of her work in relief, closing out games that were started by other pitchers. Both are critical  to UNI’s success, and both are having huge seasons.

One thing that makes this season so impressive is the youth in UNI’s starting lineup. As mentioned previously, Dodge and Sanders are freshmen. The other starters consist of five sophomores, three juniors, and zero seniors. Because of this, barring any injuries or transfers, this entire group should be back for next season.

Right now is a very exciting time to be a UNI softball fan. Whether you love softball or are just getting familiar with it, take the time to get to the Robinson-Dresser Sports Complex to see this group compete. They will have a three-game home series against Illinois State this weekend, April 23 and 24, as well as another home series against Indiana State on April 30 and May 1. Their home finale will be Wednesday, May 4, hosting in-state rival Iowa.