Panthers’ ace pitcher dominates Saluki offense

By Terrance Peacock

The SIU softball team dropped two one-run games against Northern Iowa during a Saturday doubleheader that brought the team’s conference record to 0-4.

The series was moved from UNI’s Robinson Dresser Field to Charlotte West Stadium because of unfavorable weather forecasts in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Salukis still played as the away team, but the change haunted them in game one as Northern Iowa used its final at-bat to beat SIU 4-3 in extra innings.

The Panthers went with their ace Jamie Fisher, the Missouri Valley Conference’s Most Valuable Pitcher. The junior didn’t disappoint as she struck out 10 batters and allowed one run in 11 innings to nab the win.

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“No matter what (Northern Iowa’s) record is, with (Fisher) on the mound, they can beat anybody,” coach Kerri Blaylock said. “She does a good job, and their pitching coach does a good job calling pitches.”

Although Fisher was locked-in in the circle, the Salukis, who were down 3-2 with their final at-bat, mustered a clutch RBI single by sophomore outfielder Kalyn Harker. Her shot squeaked past a diving third baseman and scored junior infielder Jayna Spivey from second base. The run tied the game at three and sent it into extra innings.

The score remained the same until the 11th inning, when an SIU error with two outs put the game-winning runner on base and UNI freshman outfielder Kristin Lock hit a walk-off double to seal it for UNI. Sophomore pitcher Alyssa Wunderlich recorded the loss in relief despite allowing no earned runs on three hits with no walks and a career-best six strikeouts in 4.2 innings.

Senior outfielder Morgan Barchan was the lone Saluki to pick up multiple hits during the first game, as she went 2-4 with a scored run and a pair of walks.

Game two saw much of the same, as Fisher (10-8) picked up her second win after allowing one run on five SIU hits with three strikeouts during the nightcap. She logged 18 innings for the day and threw more than 300 pitches.

The Panthers scored a run in the second and third innings to take a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning before the Salukis finally scored on Barchan’s solo home run. Freshman infielder Kelsey Gonzalez followed her deep shot with a single, which brought the go-ahead run to the plate. However, SIU failed to take advantage to end the game.

Barchan went 3-4 to lead the Salukis in game two, while Gonzalez and junior catcher Allie VadeBoncouer recorded the team’s only other hits.

Wunderlich (5-6) picked up another tough loss despite allowing just two runs on five hits with a strikeout.

“She’s been throwing well for two or three weeks,” Blaylock said. “If she continues to throw like that, hopefully with our offense we’ll be able to win some games.”

A bright spot during the Salukis’ dreary doubleheader was the gameplay between Gonzalez and freshman infielder Taylor Harris.

Gonzalez had tough at-bats, recorded two hits against the returning conference pitcher of the year and had a good eye at the plate throughout the games.

“(Fisher) was getting a lot of people out on that rise ball, so I was focusing on laying off it and waiting to get my pitch,” she said.

Gonzalez was the ninth batter during game one, and Blaylock moved her to the order’s No. 2 spot during game two. Gonzalez said the change was because of Blaylock changing the lineup.

“Obviously, what we had been doing wasn’t working,” Gonzalez said. “You just have to change it around sometimes.”

Harris, who has seen limited action for most of the season, was thrust into the starting lineup when junior infielder Kelsea Ashton was ruled out because of illness. She played tough defense at third base and made two leaping catches in the field.

“I had to do whatever I could to help our team win,” she said. “I’ve been playing first (base) most of the time and not really getting a lot at third, so I couldn’t do anything else but play my game.”

The Salukis will return to action during the weekend, when they will travel to Normal to face Illinois State in one game Friday and a doubleheader Saturday.

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