CEDAR FALLS — After playing 23 consecutive games away from home, the Northern Iowa softball team gave its home crowd plenty to cheer about in its return to Cedar Falls Saturday.
UNI scored in every at-bat and surrendered just three total hits, winning 12-4 and 9-0 in a dominant double-header sweep of Evansville.
Panther Coach Ryan Jacobs was pleased with how aggressive his team was at the plate and in the field, saying the return home seemed to give his players a boost.
“I know it was nice to sleep in my own bed last night in preparation for a game,” said Jacobs, whose team hadn’t played a home game since Feb. 12. “I think it gave a lot of energy to our players and it was nice to play the way we did.
“We’ve been trying to get things to click and maybe the thing we needed was to get a home game. Our job now is to continue this roll and keep it going.”
The Panthers’ final at-bat of the day ended the same way as their first with them scoring four, two-out runs.
In good position to record a 1-2-3 first inning, Evansville instead kept UNI alive with a two-out error. The mistake proved costly, as the next seven batters would reach.
Jaci Spencer started the scoring with an RBI single. Sammey Bunch then ripped a two-run double before Tianna Drahn capped the rally with an RBI single.
The Aces responded with three runs in the top of the second, but Anna Varriano recaptured the momentum for the Panthers, blasting a two-run homer in the inning’s bottom half.
Game two was all UNI from the start. With her team already up 2-0, Varriano went long again, drilling another two-run home run in the third inning.
Bunch, who had nine RBIs in the two games, delivered the final blow in the bottom of the fourth, hitting a bases-clearing, three-run triple.
“The ball was looking really good today,” said Bunch, who also hit a two-run home run in game one. “I was just trying to help my team out and it worked.”
The offense was more than enough for starting pitchers Jaci Spencer and Alyssa Buchanan, who had little trouble silencing Evansville bats.
Despite getting tagged for three home runs, Spencer was dominant the rest of the way, allowing just one other base runner. She struck out 12 while allowing three hits with one walk.
Buchanan fared even better in game two, throwing a five-inning no-hitter. She struck out 10, allowing just two Aces to reach, improving her record to 7-1.
Now that they’re getting into the meat of the conference schedule, Panther players are confident they will be able to build on what they accomplished Saturday.
“Everything’s starting to come together,” Buchanan said. “We have great defense, we have great hitting, we have a great pitching staff and it just all needs to come together. And I think we’re finally starting to get to the point where things are clicking for everybody.”
UNI and Evansville meet again at 11 a.m. today at Robinson-Dresser.
UNI 12-9, Evansville 4-0
Evansville 030 001—4 3 2
UNI 4 3 1 1 1 2—12 15 0
Lockhart and Scott. Spencer and Varriano. WP—Spencer (6-5). LP—Lockhart (2-7). 2B—Bunch (UNI) 2. HR—Scott (E), Lambert (E), Varriano (UNI), Hay (E), Bunch (UNI).
Evansville 000 00—0 0
UNI 112 5x—9 9 1
Fleming, Cassidy (5) and Bostic. Buchanan and Varriano. WP—Buchanan (7-1). LP—Fleming (1-1). 2B—Bunch (UNI), 3B—Bunch (UNI). HR—Varriano (UNI).
Records: Evansville 12-18, 3-2, UNI 17-15, 5-5