CEDAR FALLS — No lead is safe with the wind howling out at Robinson-Dresser Complex.
Northern Iowa’s softball team turned its home park into a launch pad Saturday afternoon as the Panthers erupted for all four of the game’s home runs, including a convincing two-run, game-winning shot by Macey Wolfe off the top of the left field scoreboard during a thrilling, 9-8 win over Bradley.
The victory completed a three-game series sweep and kept UNI (23-15, 11-4 Missouri Valley Conference) tied with second-place Wichita State and one game back of Illinois State atop the league standings.
After shutting out Bradley twice on Friday inside the UNI-Dome, UNI never led until the game’s final swing on this afternoon. The Braves (19-23, 5-10) recorded 15 hits and took advantage of four errors to build leads of 5-0 in the second inning and 8-5 when a bases-loaded grounder went through UNI shortstop Sammey Bunch’s legs to score three in the top of the seventh inning.
UNI used the trio of Bailey Lange, Alyssa Buchanan and Jaclyn Spencer in the pitcher’s circle to battle through a series of defensive miscues and unfavorable weather conditions.
“I just like the way we’re competing right now,” UNI coach Ryan Jacobs said. “We’re not giving up when we get down.
“Our pitchers have been doing a fantastic job. Today was a great example of all three of them working together. It’s not just about whose game it is, it’s about a team effort in the circle.”
After Bradley knocked her out of the pitcher’s circle in the top half of the second inning, Lange got UNI on the scoreboard in the bottom of the frame when her fly ball carried over the right field fence for a two-run homer. Wolfe drove in Brittney Roby with a single to center in the third inning, and Brittney Krodinger then erased Bradley’s initial advantage with a game-tying, two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Krodinger added a second two-run blast in the bottom of the seventh inning to pull the Panthers within one. Saturday’s homers were the first of the season for UNI’s sophomore leadoff hitter.
“She’s always a kid that puts together a quality at-bat and that’s why she’s in the leadoff spot,” Jacobs said. “I’m just proud of the way she’s been working in practice trying to hone that swing and it’s starting to come together for her a little bit.”
With UNI still trailing by one in the seventh and no outs following Roby’s single, Jacobs elected to let Wolfe swing away early instead of sacrificing. It turned out to be the right decision as she deposited the first strike she saw off the scoreboard for a walk-off homer.
“Macey is one of our best bunters so it was a tough decision there in the last inning on what to do with her,” Jacobs said. “My plan was to give her a strike and see if she could put a good swing on it early in the count. If not, she was going to do her job and move the runner over. She came through.”
Added Wolfe, “That (game-winning homer) felt really good, but it was a team effort all around. We believed the whole time. Even though it was the seventh inning, we believed that we could do it. It was all about believing in each other.”
That final inning showed UNI’s resolve after giving up three runs in the top half of the frame. Tianna Drahn led off with a single as the first of four consecutive hits that the Panthers used to secure this victory.
“We’ve came through a lot this year, and have overcome a lot of things, and finally it’s working for us,” Krodinger said. “We’re getting better as the season is going on and I’m just glad we’re peaking at the right time.”
UNI 9, Bradley 8
Bradley 140 000 3 — 8 15 0
UNI 021 200 4 — 9 9 4
Kestas, Jackson (3), Hull (7) and Schroeder. Lange, Buchanan (2), Spencer (7) and Varriano. WP—Spencer (10-6). LP—Hull (8-4). 2B — Mahaffy (Bradley), Roby (UNI). HRs—B. Krodinger 2 (UNI), Lange (UNI), Wolfe (UNI).