INDIANA DROPS WEEKEND OPENING GAME TO NORTHWESTERN, 6-3
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Bloomington, Ind. - For most of this afternoon's Big Ten contest vs. Northwestern at sun-drenched IU Softball Field, Indiana played some of its finest defense of the season, recording two double plays and several defensive gems by junior third baseman Kristine Dugan. Yet, it was several throwing errors early in the game that proved costly as the Wildcats secured a 6-0 lead after 2 1/3 innings, withstood a three-run Hoosier rally in the bottom of the third, and held on for the 6-3 victory. The two teams meet again at noon on Saturday. Northwestern (22-11, 4-5 Big Ten) has defeated defending national champion California and third-ranked Washington this season. Indiana falls to 14-19 overall and 0-7 in Big Ten play.
"The pace that they played at early in the game gave us some problems," said first-year head coach Sara Hayes. "They have good team speed and it was an adjustment for us. We settled in later on in the game but by then we were playing from behind."
After scoring single runs in both the top of the first and second innings, the Wildcats scored four times in the top of the third inning behind the strength of a three-run home run by junior catcher J.C. Kira, in addition to two defensive blunders by the Hoosiers. Kira was 2-for-3 on the day with a run scored and three RBI. Northwestern hitters notched eight hits, including two extra-base knocks by junior second baseman Carri Leto -- a leadoff triple in the top of the first and a double in the second inning. Junior leftfielder Abby Stark led the Hoosiers at the plate, recording two of IU's four hits, including a two-run single in the third and a double in the fifth. Junior rightfielder Valerie White both scored and drove in a run, while senior Katie Joy and pitcher Heather Stillians recorded one hit each.
"Abby Stark is swinging the bat very well for us right now," said Hayes. "She had a really good day at the plate."
Stillians (7-10) opened in the circle for the Hoosiers and allowed eight hits and four earned runs in seven innings pitched, while walking three and striking out one. She also hit one batter. Northwestern countered with freshman hurler Courtnay Foster (10-6), who earned the complete game victory, allowing four hits and three earned runs. She walked four and struck out seven. The Tucson, Ariz., product entered the game with a stellar 1.64 earned run average and had allowed only 75 hits in 106 2/3 innings pitched in 21 previous appearances.
Northwestern secured a 1-0 advantage in the top of the first as Leto, the first hitter of the game, promptly greeted Stillians with a triple off the fence in right field. Leftfielder Brett Nakabayashi followed with a single to centerfield that scored Leto from third with the first run of the game.
After Foster retired the side in order in the bottom of the first, Leto doubled down the leftfield line with two outs in the top of the second to score centerfielder Jessie Wellnitz with the second run of the game that gave the Wildcats a 2-0 advantage.
The Wildcats broke open the game with four runs in the top of the third inning. The big blow was a three-run blast to left centerfield by Kira that gave the Wildcats a 6-0 lead. After rightfielder Erin Mobley, the reigning Big Ten Player-of-the-Week, led off the inning reaching on a bloop single to right, she advanced to second when Dugan's throw to second was wide of the bag on what amounted to a failed sacrifice bunt attempt by shortstop Robyn Pettinger. With runners now at first and second, first baseman Jamie Dotson hit a grounder to Stillians that she threw into the dirt at third, allowing Mobley to score. Kirk then followed with the home run that gave Northwestern the insurmountable lead.
Indiana did make a game of it with three runs in the bottom of the third. Stillians led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on a walk by Dawn Ramynke. After Joy singled to load the bases, Stillians scored on a ground out by White. After a sacrifice bunt by Heather Suca advanced Joy and White to second and third, respectively, Stark singled sharply to right to score two runs.
The Hoosiers threatened again in the bottom of the fifth. After White walked to lead off the inning, Stark hit a two-out double to right to advance White to third but Foster struck out freshman Lauren Hines to end the inning.
Foster struck out the side in the bottom of the fifth and did not allow a Hoosier to reach base in either the bottom of the sixth or seventh inning.
Strangely, Indiana turned double plays, Northwestern reached on five fielder's choices, and there were three rare third base-to-shortstop putouts at third base.