CEDAR FALLS — The University of Northern Iowa softball has spent the past two months traveling the country on weekends like a touring band.
Unfavorable local weather conditions have forced the Panthers to play 30 consecutive games on the road.
With their outdoor home Robinson-Dresser Field still unplayable, a homestand featuring 12 of the next 13 games in Cedar Falls began Wednesday night inside the UNI-Dome. An Iowa State team that has struggled within a challenging Big 12 Conference found the key hits to prevail over UNI, 10-7, in an eight-inning slugfest that lasted 2 hours, 37 minutes.
The Cyclones (19-24) immediately answered every time UNI (20-16) put runs on the scoreboard. After a four-run lead evaporated in the bottom of the fifth inning, Iowa State’s Kaila Konz delivered a three-run, go-ahead triple down the left-field line in the top half of the sixth.
It was a valuable response after Iowa State had failed to prevent a couple big innings during a road trip to No. 2 Oklahoma that kicked off the week.
“Over the years just playing against (UNI) coach (Ryan) Jacobs, I just know their teams are not going to lay down, they’re going to battle,” Iowa State coach Jamie Pinkerton said. “I told them after we gave up the lead that we can lay down and go home, or we can battle back. They battled back, so I’m real proud of the fight that the kids had.”
UNI displayed plenty of fight on its own.
Down to the final out in the bottom of the seventh, the Panthers’ right fielder Tianna Drahn scored Brittney Krodinger from second with a single to center. Claire Dudek placed runners on the corner with an infield single, but Iowa State’s Emma Hylen recorded a clutch strikeout to extend the game.
Kaylee Bosworth then quickly placed the Cyclones back in front by blasting a towering home run to left field to open the eighth inning. Sydney Stites then tacked on a pair of insurance runs with her second double as Iowa State pulled away.
“I liked our fight,” UNI’s Jacobs said. “We fought back a couple times and put ourselves in a position to win that game. We’ve just got to do a better job of finishing.”
Prior to the bottom half of the fifth inning, UNI’s offense struggled to come up with big hits while Iowa State often cashed in with runners on base.
The Cyclones strung four consecutive hits together off Panther starter Brooke Craig in the third inning to take a 3-0 lead on back-to-back doubles from Stitles and Taylor Nearad. Logan Schaben, the second batter UNI reliever Emma Olejniczak faced, added a solo home run with one out in the fourth inning.
After stranding seven runners on base over the first four innings, UNI broke through with a six-run sixth inning that was highlighted by a three-run, inside-the-park home run from No. 9 hitter Claire Dudek. She took a 1-2 pitch opposite field and circled the bases as Iowa State’s left fielder Hannah Carper’s diving attempt came up empty.
“I was just trying to get the runners in and do my thing,” Dudek said. “I don’t really look at the outs, I just try to do my own thing and it happened to work.”
Jacobs saw a more relaxed approach at the plate during the fifth inning in which UNI recorded three hits to go with two walks and a hit batter.
“It was a simple adjustment, just do the same things we do in practice and not try too hard,” Jacobs said. “Just stick with the process and trust it. Early they were trying too hard and pressing a little bit.”
After opening conference play 5-5 without a single home game, UNI returns to the UNI-Dome this weekend for a three-game set with Loyola.
“It’s been a long road trip for us the last two months,” Jacobs said. “Just to be playing at home was very energizing.
“I’m looking forward to this weekend and getting to play multiple games at home. We’ve struggled with consistency. Part of that is the travel piece. Hopefully getting back at home will get us back on track and playing the right way.”
Iowa State 10, UNI 7
Iowa State 003 103 03 — 10 14 0
UNI 000 060 10 — 7 10 0
Brianna Weilbacher, Savannah Sanders (5), Emma Hylen (6) and Kaylee Bosworth. Brooke Craig, Emma Olejniczak (4), Courtney Krodinger (7), Craig (8) and Ashley Chesser. WP — Hylen (8-9). LP — Krodinger (0-1).
2B — Sydney Stites 2, Taylor Nearad, Nychole Antillon (ISU). 3B — Kaila Konz (ISU). HRs — Bosworth, Logan Schaben (ISU), Claire Dudek (UNI).