CEDAR FALLS — Heading into Saturday’s doubleheader against Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa was one of four teams chasing the Salukis in the Missouri Valley Conference standings.
Now the Panthers (20-13, 8-3) are one of four teams that share the league lead after a 4-0, 5-2 sweep at Robinson-Dresser Complex.
“I think winning the first game is good, but winning that second game I believe is more important,” said pitcher Jaci Spencer, who fired a shutout and homered in the opener. “You win that game, as well, and you’re guaranteed the series. That is our initiative each time, and our conference is so even that winning a series is big.”
Spencer, a Waterloo West graduate, allowed just three hits by Southern Illinois (19-18, 7-4), two in the final at-bat for the Salukis.
“I don’t know why, but I was so nervous before this game,” the freshman said. “It helped that we got up early.”
Marri Anne Patterson dinged Spencer for a double in the second inning, which only served to help the Panther pitcher get locked in. She retired the next 14 batters she faced and finished with nine strikeouts.
The second game was a mirror of game one as UNI built a 3-0 advantage heading to the fifth. Southern scratched out a run to make it 3-1, but Panther pitcher Alyssa Buchanan got a strikeout to end that threat and finished the victory.
“I think they knew what I was going to throw late in the game,” said Buchanan, who took a no-hitter into the seventh. “Our defense is so spectacular and I love it when they are on. I knew I just had to throw my stuff and stay on my toes. They are a great hitting team, and I knew I had to shut them down.”
Senior catcher Anna Varriano gave Buchanan some breathing room in the fifth with a two-run homer that made it 5-1.
“That was really a nice relief getting those two runs,” added Buchanan.
Head coach Ryan Jacobs liked most of what he saw Saturday.
“I guess we just have to make it interesting in the end,” Jacobs said. “I thought we pitched very well today, it was just a matter of execution at times. Southern Illinois is a very tough team and they are never out of it.”
The teams wrap up the series with an 11 a.m. game Sunday.
UNI 4-5, S. Illinois 0-2
Southern Ill. 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
N. Iowa 010 201 x — 4 7 0
Jones and Massa. Spencer and Varriano. WP—Spencer (8-5), LP—Jones (9-9). HR—Spencer (UNI). 2B—Patterson (SIU), Vermejan (SIU), Bailey (UNI).
S. Illinois 000 010 1 — 2 4 1
N. Iowa 030 020 x — 5 9 0
Dover, Doyle (5) and Thomas, Decker (5). Buchanan and Varriano. WP—Buchanan (8-1), LP—Dover (5-3). HR—Baranski (SIU), Varriano (UNI). 2B—Harre (SIU), Roby (UNI), Wolfe (UNI), Varriano (UNI), Bailey (UNI).