CEDAR FALLS — Playing catch-up early against an in-state rival certainly can impact a softball team’s psyche.
When Iowa’s Mallory Kilian launched a three-run home run in the top of the first inning to complete a four-run, two-out rally, Northern Iowa coach Ryan Jacobs saw his team briefly abandon its competitive approach at the plate.
Once UNI got back to the mentality that had allowed the Panthers to win five of their previous six games, Iowa did just enough down the stretch to salvage a 4-2 road victory at Robinson-Dresser Field.
Kilian, a sophomore from Fort Dodge who battled her way back into the Hawkeye lineup after hitting just .143 during the team’s 9-23 start, proved to be the game’s early hero. UNI starting pitcher Bailey Lange surrendered a two-out walk and hit a batter before catcher Angela Schmiederer drove in a run prior to Kilian’s first-inning blast.
“She’s bound to square one up at some point,” Iowa coach Marla Looper said. “She had gotten re-inserted into our lineup this weekend and battled through some at-bats. I think she just saw that ball well and didn’t try to do too much with it, but she’s got power.”
Lange settled in after that initial outburst, allowing just three Hawkeyes to reach base before retiring 11 consecutive batters to close out her 6 1/3 innings of work. The UNI starter finished with six strikeouts and one walk.
“Being a mid-week game, it was one of those things where she had a little bit more leeway for us to see how she reacts and how she responds,” Jacobs said. “I think she needed to see that and we needed to see that.”
After Macey Wolfe’s solo home run accounted for the first hit off Iowa starter and Ankeny native Allison Doocy, UNI (20-15) put together fierce rallies over the final three innings. Iowa second baseman Claire Fritsch robbed Brittany Roby of an RBI with a diving stop up the middle before flipping to shortstop Katy Taylor for the third out with runners on first and second in the bottom of the fifth.
“They were starting to build a little bit of a rally and figuring out how to sharpen up and fine tune and attack Doocy,” Looper said. “It was nice to see the defense behind her be able to finish that inning out. They kept fighting and battling so we had to continue to fight and scrap and hold that ballgame.”
Doocy escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning when Kennedy Bailey grounded out to first to retire the side, and Iowa relief Erin Riding worked through a jam in the seventh inning for the save.
The Panthers tallied four hits in the final frame. Anna Varriano drove in one run on a line-drive single after Riding recorded a bases-loaded strikeout with one out. Alyssa Buchanan lined a shot to third base in the final at-bat, but it found Kilian’s glove and the game ended with the bases loaded.
Finding the difference between trying hard and competing hard was the adjustment Jacobs was pleased to see his team make down the stretch. The competitive manner in which UNI closed out the game could pay dividends when the Panthers return to league play this weekend hosting Bradley.
“I felt as soon as they hit that home run in the first inning we went into try-hard mode,” Jacobs said. “We never practice try hard. We practice the things that give us the confidence to have a plan at the plate, have a plan in the pitching circle.
“Just trying hard isn’t the way that you get it done. It’s being a competitive athlete, seeing where you can take advantage of the other team, where they’re taking advantage of you and shutting those things down.
“We talked as a team and said, ‘This is the way we have to compete the rest of the game to have a shot.’ They did that, so I was really happy with us being able to make that mental-approach adjustment and give ourselves a chance in the last inning.”
Iowa 4, UNI 2
Iowa 400 000 0 — 4 4 1
UNI 000 100 1 — 2 8 0
Allison Doocy, Erin Riding (4) and Angela Schmiederer. Bailey Lange, Alyssa Buchanan (7) and Anna Varriano. HR—Mallory Kilian (Iowa), Macey Wolfe (UNI). WP—Doocy (5-9). LP—Lange (4-8). S—Riding (1).