CEDAR FALLS — Competing against a somber backdrop on a dreary day that forced play inside the UNI-Dome, Northern Iowa’s softball team pulled together Tuesday night.
Two days removed from the tragic shooting death of 2016 senior center fielder Micalla Rettinger, it was one of three former teammates still on UNI’s roster who ignited the Panthers during a 4-2 victory over the University of Iowa.
UNI senior Brittney Krodinger led off the bottom of the first inning by smacking a 3-1 pitch down the left field line for a game-tying home run during a return to the playing field she found therapeutic.
“It meant a lot to me to do that, and just have fun playing the game,” Krodinger said. “We’ve all been able to talk to each other and everyone around us, to just really come together more as team. We just have each other’s backs.”
Krodinger viewed Rettinger as a role-model during her first year at UNI.
“My freshman year, we all looked up to her,” Krodinger recalls. “She was our fierce leader. Everyone went to her and she would literally do anything for anyone. She was just that person that had everyone’s back no matter what.”
Collegiate athletes often describe their teams as families, and mom is the first word UNI’s seniors used when conveying to their teammates these past couple days the type of role Rettinger fulfilled.
“Having that mom figure on a team, especially being the transition from high school to college, I know that helped them out a lot,” UNI junior pitcher Jaclyn Spencer said. “They’re moms to our freshman. They learned from the best and they really show it.
“Hearing the seniors talk about her (Rettinger) and the experiences that she helped them with, it really shows how softball is so much more than a sport, and how UNI takes so much pride in being a better person than a softball player. She was epitome of that.”
Through a game that began with a moment of silence — before Iowa catcher Abby Lien walked over to UNI’s dugout and handed head coach Ryan Jacobs a bouquet of flowers — Spencer, Krodinger and the Panthers played inspired softball.
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“We put it upon ourselves to play for her (Rettinger), play for something bigger than just winning,” Spencer said.
Spencer frequently mixed in off-speed pitches and kept Iowa off-balance during a complete-game 10 strikeout gem versus one walk with six hits scattered.
Brittney Krodinger’s twin sister, Courtney, drove in the go-ahead run on a fourth inning ground rule double. Spencer then broke the game open by clocking a no doubt two-run homer into the UNI-Dome seats well beyond the center field fencing.
Iowa plated a run on a throwing error in the sixth, before Spencer recorded a strikeout with a runner on first in the top of the seventh to end the game.
“It’s been an emotional couple days,” Jacobs said. “It’s been very difficult, but I was really happy with the way our team played today coming off a really tough weekend. The tragedy put a lot in perspective about why we’re really here.”
After pausing to collect himself, Jacobs continued, “I was really happy with the way we played tonight.”
UNI will remain on turf over the closing stretch of the season. The Panthers travel to Loyola for a three-game set this weekend before the Missouri Valley Conference tournament begins next week in Peoria, Ill.
UNI 4, Iowa 2
Iowa 100 001 0 — 2 6 1
UNI 100 300 x — 4 3 1
Lehman and Lien. Spencer and Chesser. WP — Spencer (7-3). LP — Lehman (1-7). 2B — C. Krodinger (UNI). HRs — B. Krodinger, Spencer (UNI).