CEDAR FALLS — The Northern Iowa Panthers softball team has a lot of weapons at their disposal, and Saturday, head coach Ryan Jacobs utilized them all at Robinson-Dresser Sports Complex.
From the pitching staff to the players coming off the bench, everyone played a vital role in the Panthers 17-1, 8-0 sweep of Missouri Valley Conference foe Valparaiso.
In the opening victory, starting pitcher Emma Olejniczak threw a six hit shutdown of the Crusaders (12-21, 2-13) which evened her record for the season at 6-6.
“I struggled at the start and I felt that it took me longer to settle in than what I wanted,” said Olejniczak. “I had to shake off that first inning or two and find the zone. It helps to have such a great defense behind me that I can count on to make plays. When they play solid like that it just helps build my confidence and makes me more comfortable.”
While Olejniczak settled into her comfort zone, after surrendering a 1-0 early lead, the Crusaders pitchers could not find comfort in facing the Panthers bats.
The Panthers (19-16, 10-5) scored three times in the second using three walks with bases loaded. Then in the third, UNI took advantage of more wild pitching as it converted seven walks into six runs, getting a boost from a two-run home run by Ashley Chesser.
The Crusaders walked 13 batters in the game, and Courtney Krodinger and Sammey Bunch added home runs for UNI. Bucnh’s blast was a grand slam.
“I can really emphasize with them today,” Olejniczak said. “I have been there before and know exactly how it feels.”
“We took advantage of the free passes given to us, and we got hits when we needed them,” Jacobs said. “I think Emma finally relaxed a bit when we got the lead. She has kind of been living on the edge lately but today was a good day for her. It was a good day for everyone.”
Emma Valainis is one those players who had good days. She had a two-run double in the opener, and a two-run home run in the second inning in the nightcap helped propel UNI to the doubleheader sweep.
“This team is built off momentum,” Valainis said. “Once someone begins to hit we all seem to hit and it just catches on. Today I wanted to take my opportunities and do what I had to do and make the best of them.”
Valainis’s shot sparked more long ball from her team mates.
With Kamryn Shaffer on via another walk, lead-off hitter Brittney Krodinger knocked one out of the park, then Bunch hammered her 15th of the season, matching a program best for home runs in a single season.
Courtney Krodinger delivered the final blow with a long double into the right field gap plating Olivia Brooks for the win in the bottom of the sixth.
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“It was such a great feeling to end the game that way,” Krodinger said. “Now we have to get ready for Sunday. We have seen all their pitchers so we should not be off guard tomorrow.”
“That is the challenge for us right now,” said Jacobs. “We have not played well on Sundays lately and so we need to work on that and get the sweep.”
The Panthers wrap up their three game series with Valparaiso today at 11 a.m.
UNI 17-8, Valparaiso 1-0
Valparaiso 100 00—1 6 0
Northern Iowa 036 8x—17 9 1
Jenna Edwards, Emily Richardson (3), Taylor Knight (3) and Hannah Dybalski, Taylor Tonoian (3). Emma Olejniczak and Ashley Chesser. WP—Olejniczak (6-6), LP—Edwards (4-10). HR—Sammey Bunch (UNI), Courtney Krodinger (UNI), Chesser (UNI). 2B—Emma Valainis (UNI).
Northern Iowa 8, Valparaiso 0
Valparaiso 000 000—0 2 0
Northern Iowa 150 002—8 8 0
Edwards and Dybalski. Jaclyn Spencer and Chesser. WP—Spencer (4-2), LP—Edwards (4-11). HR—Bunch (UNI), Brittney Krodinger (UNI), Valainis (UNI). 2B—C. Krodinger (UNI), Bunch (UNI), Spencer (UNI).