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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Panthers off to hot start with 5-1 record

UNI softball beats #24 Auburn, look to extend their hot start in non-conference play
The dugout clears out to cheer on their teammates.

The University of Northern Iowa softball team has hit the ground running to start their 2024 season. The Panthers started the season on their home turf going 3-2 in the Doc Halverson UNI-Dome Classic. Since then the women have gone 5-1 in their last six games, including a ranked victory over #24 Auburn in Alabama. 

Through the first three innings of the game it was a true pitching battle, as both teams were scoreless. In the top of the fourth inning that all changed. Kylee Sanders got on base to start the inning with a lead walk. Alexis Pupillo then reached on base with a single. 

With two runners on base, Madison Parks hit a hard ground ball at the shortstop who couldn’t field it to give UNI a 1-0 lead. Addison McElrath kept the Panthers going as she hit the ball in play, which ultimately resulted in an error from the third baseman, allowing Sanders to score from second base. The Panthers led 2-0. 

With two runners on and two outs, Auburn had another error to allow Parks to reach home from third to give UNI a 3-0 lead before retiring the inning. 

In the top of the sixth inning Pupillo added an important insurance run with her sixth home run on the year. Pupillo hammered the ball over the right field wall to extend UNI’s lead to 4-0. 

After fending off an Auburn comeback the Panthers triumphed in victory as they beat the Tigers 4-2. 

The victory over Auburn marked just the third ranked win in program history for the Panthers. Anna Wischnowski (4-1) pitched her first career complete game at the collegiate level to help lead UNI to the win. 

“Honestly, I was just so incredibly proud of Anna,” said catcher Savanna Jemilo. “She absolutely killed it, and I was so grateful that I was able to be out there with her.” While reflecting on what the win meant to her Jemilo added, “I just thought about how much I loved my team and how hard everyone on the team worked to get to this point.” 

With hopes riding high, the remaining non-conference schedule does not get any easier for the Panthers. Their next game is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 28 against the University of Alabama Birmingham on the road.

Following the game at UAB, the Panthers will compete in the T-Mobile Crimson Classic in Tuscaloosa, Ala. where they will take on two more ranked opponents in Arizona (#23) and Alabama (#10). 

After their stint in Alabama the Panthers will be on the road once more, this time in Arkansas to compete in the Razorback Rumble. Arkansas, the host team, is also ranked in the top 25 currently sitting at #14 in the polls. 

So how will UNI continue to find success amidst their difficult schedule? According to Jemilo the answer is simple. “We are going to continue to play Panther softball and do all of the little things right.” 

The UNI softball team understands how important these non-conference games are and views them as opportunities to work as a team and continue to grow as a program.

“We know we can compete with any team that we face,” said Jemilo. 

The Panthers will start conference play on March 15 against Belmont on a three-game road stretch in Nashville, Tenn. Following that match-up UNI will have its first home game on March 22 against Indiana State. It will be their first home stint since early February. 

“We are looking to use these next few weeks on the road to prepare ourselves for the regular season,” said Jemilo. The Panthers are hunting for the third consecutive conference championship this year and another bid into the NCAA tournament.

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