The UNI softball team has been on an absolute tear in Missouri Valley Conference play. Winners of their last 10 conference games heading into their weekend series against Illinois State, the Panther women looked to keep the momentum rolling at the Robinson-Dresser Sports Complex with a three game series against the Redbirds. Due to weather concerns, there was a schedule change with Saturday’s doubleheader being moved to Sunday, and a single game being played on Saturday afternoon. UNI took all three games of the series, moving their conference record to a resounding 17-1 with just two series to play in the regular season.
Saturday’s game matched UNI’s Kailyn Packard against Illinois State’s Hannah Ross in the pitcher’s circle. This game proved to be a pitcher’s duel throughout the first four innings, with neither team able to scratch across a run. With the game in a scoreless tie going into the bottom of the fifth, the UNI bats exploded. A Redbird misplay in the outfield allowed UNI pinch runner Maggie Erpelding to score, which was then followed by a Sammy Moss two-run single two batters later. Left fielder Madison Parks reached on an infield single allowing Moss to score, and with two more runners reaching the base in the inning, UNI catcher Emmy Wells came to the plate. Needing four runs to complete the eight-run mercy rule, Wells crushed a no-doubt grand slam home run over the left-center field wall to cap the game at an 8-0 Panther victory.
Ross took the loss for Illinois State, allowing eight total runs with none of them earned runs. Packard was magnificent in the circle for the Panthers as she only allowed one hit and struck out eight Redbirds en route to her 16th win on the season.
Game two of the series opened up the Sunday doubleheader. Packard again matched up with Ross in the circle, but this one would be nothing like the first game of the series. The Illinois State offense came to play early, roughing up Packard for four runs in their half of the third inning. This game had a back-and-forth nature to it, with each team answering the other. The Redbirds had built a 5-2 lead in the fourth inning, when UNI third baseman Brooke Snider hit a long fly to straight-away center field, and appeared to be pushed over the wall with the help of the strong wind gusts.
The ballgame went into the bottom of the sixth tied at sixth. UNI’s Mya Dodge brought home pinch runner Hannah Isely with an RBI single to edge the Panthers out in front 7-6. Needing just three more outs to close the game, Illinois State pushed home a run on an infield single. However, in the UNI seventh, Snider again came through in the clutch. She batted a fly ball to right field just far enough to allow Kylee Sanders to tag up from third and score the winning run in game two.
Samantha Heyer picked up the win in relief for UNI, with Ross again the losing pitcher for Illinois State. Packard allowed six runs, two earned runs and walked five Redbirds in the contest.
Game three started out with a bang for the Purple and Gold. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, the red-hot Wells dug in again. Much like on Saturday, she punished another pitch over the center field wall for her second grand slam in as many days. The quick 4-0 lead provided Heyer with plenty of run support throughout the contest. A Taylor Hogan three-run blast in the bottom of the fifth extended the UNI lead to 7-1, and minus a few blemishes this game was a gem from Heyer. She tossed a complete game, only allowing five hits and three runs. The Panthers took the rubber match of the series 7-3 on Sunday afternoon.
UNI remains in first place in the Missouri Valley Conference with a near-perfect 17-1 record and 26-11 overall. They have won their last 13 games and will look to keep the good times coming next weekend when they host Indiana State at Robinson-Dresser. A doubleheader is scheduled on Saturday, with games tentatively planned for 12 and 2 p.m. Game three is planned for 12 p.m. on Sunday, May 1.