CEDAR FALLS -- First-inning fireworks set the tone for Saturday's Missouri Valley Conference softball doubleheader between Northern Iowa and Loyola inside the UNI-Dome.
UNI sent all nine hitters to the plate during its first at-bat to take control of an 8-0 six-inning mercy-rule win in game one. Loyola answered with Allyson Ivey belting a grand slam home run in the top of the first en route to a 5-0 game two Ramblers victory.
The two teams return to the UNI-Dome at 11 a.m. today in the rubber game of UNI's first home conference series through a season in which poor weather conditions have often thrown MVC teams a curveball.
"It's nice to have a Saturday doubleheader," UNI coach Ryan Jacobs said. "We haven't been on schedule all year so far.
"This is the first time we came out and played really well in game one, and then didn't come out with much energy in game two. It was kind of a role reversal from game one to game two for both teams."
UNI (21-17, 6-6 MVC) had every batter in its lineup record a hit during the opening game. Brittney Roby and Sammey Bunch each tallied two hits at the top of the lineup. Catcher Ashley Chesser added a pair -- including a sixth-inning solo home run from the clean-up slot -- and Tianna Drahn finished with two singles near the bottom of the lineup, forming a balanced 13-hit attack.
In game two, UNI scattered nine singles with no walks. Only three runners advanced into scoring position as Loyola's Keenan Dolezal needed just two strikeouts to compile a shutout.
The Panthers found themselves often pressing on offense after Loyola cashed in on two infield singles and a blooper to load the bases before Ivey's first-inning grand slam. UNI pitcher Emma Olejniczak settled in and allowed just one run over the next four innings. Courtney Krodinger added two innings of scoreless relief for the Panthers.
"It was 100 percent different," Jacobs said, addressing his team's approach at the plate in game two. "We were swinging with our arms. We were trying too hard, and we went away from our plan that we stuck to really well in game one. Down 4-0 to begin the (second) game, we went off the plan and we started to try too hard.
"In this game when you try too hard, it's kind of like being stuck in the mud. It just makes things worse."
UNI's defense played sparkling error-free softball throughout the doubleheader. Panther first baseman Kennedy Bailey made a nice diving stop on the turf for an impressive out early in game one, and Claire Dudek and Sammey Bunch worked a doubleplay up the middle to end Loyola's final at bat.
Junior pitcher Brooke Craig was brilliant in the circle, as well. Craig struck out six, walked one and scattered seven Loyola hits in six innings of work.
"Loyola hit the ball really well today all the way around -- even in that first game," Jacobs said. "Brooke did a good job, and our defense did a fantastic job of keeping runs off the board."