CEDAR FALLS — Alyssa Buchanan has meant a lot to the University of Northern Iowa softball program.
Senior Day meant a lot to Buchanan, too.
Buchanan made her last appearance at Robinson-Dresser a memorable one Saturday as she threw a four-hit gem for a 5-1 victory that capped a Missouri Valley Conference sweep of Wichita State.
The Panthers (29-18, 17-6) took game one in a thriller, 9-7, and tightened their grip on second place in the league with one weekend to go before the MVC tournament.
UNI needed a late rally to pull out the opening win. Buchanan wanted no part of similar drama in game two.
“Coming out here today was so crazy and very emotional,” Buchanan said. “Emotional is a perfect word for today. I came out and thought about it all and got away from my game a little, but I just settled in and did my usual thing. It is easy to do when you have this defense behind you making big plays.”
Brittney Roby put the first run on the board with a double in the bottom of the first, and Sammey Bunch slammed a solo home run in the second. Senior Anna Varriano made it 5-0 in the fourth with a two-run single.
“It felt great to get that hit and help my team, especially as my last at-bat,” Varriano said. “I have played this game my entire life and it just doesn’t seem real that it could be over soon. Someone told me once to enjoy every moment because before you know it, it will be gone. Boy, she was right. It just happened so fast.”
“We always say winning the first game is great but winning the second game usually goes to the tougher team,” added Varriano. “Coach has always told us that, and today we were the tougher team.”
Saturday’s cold, wet afternoon was nothing new for the Panthers.
“The weather is a factor, but we get ourselves ready for that way back in the fall,” UNI coach Ryan Jacobs said. “This type of weather gives us a little home advantage because we have to be tougher in these conditions. I was happy with the way these girls bounced back after the loss at Iowa State (15-4), and these kids answered the call when they had to.
“We lose four seniors this year and those are big shoes to fill. We will miss these seniors when they are gone, but we have some very good talent on the way up, as well.”
One of those talented young players is Bunch, a freshman who helped the Panthers get off to a 5-0 lead in the opener by smashing a first-inning grand slam. Another freshman, Jaci Spencer, got the pitching victory and what proved to be the game-winning hit in the sixth inning after the Shockers (28-19, 13-9) charged back. Bunch also tripled home an insurance run in the sixth.
“We knew Wichita State is one tough team and that they would come back,” said Spencer, whose single gave UNI an 8-7 lead. “I never really worry much because I always know that my defense and offense will always back me up.
“We like to win that first game, but we wanted to get rowdy for the second one. That one is make-or-break in any series.”
The Panthers play at league-leading Illinois State next weekend.
UNI 9-5, Wichita St. 7-1
Wichita St. 000 313 0 — 7 10 3
N. Iowa 501 012 x — 9 9 1
Malone, Brooks (1), Malone (6) and Perrigan. Spencer and Varriano. WP—Spencer (12-7), LP—Malone (22-11). HR—Hitz (WSU), Bunch (UNI). 2B—Roby (UNI), Bunch (UNI).
Wichita St. 000 001 0 — 1 4 0
N. Iowa 111 200 x — 5 8 0
Brooks, Malone (1), Klitzke (5) and Perrigan. Buchanan and Varriano. WP—Buchanan (12-2), LP—Brooks (4-7). HR—Bunch (UNI). 2B—Roby (UNI).