NORMAL, Ill. — Northern Iowa earned a chance to play for the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship Saturday by sweeping league-leading Illinois State in convincing fashion, 11-1 and 8-2.
The Panthers (31-18 overall, 19-6 MVC) can claim a share of the title and the No. 1 seed for the MVC tournament by defeating the Redbirds (30-19, 20-5) in Sunday’s series finale.
UNI started the day with outstanding pitching from freshman Jaclyn Spencer, errorless defense and two big blows from the bat of Kennedy Bailey.
Locked in a 0-0 game, the Panthers erupted for seven runs in the fifth capped by Bailey’s grand slam. UNI tacked on four more in the seventh on Bailey’s three-run blast and Spencer’s RBI double. Bailey finished 3-for-4 with seven RBIs while Spencer and Sammey Bunch had two hits each.
In the second game, Alyssa Buchanan improved to 13-2 with a complete-game four-hitter. Illinois State scored in the bottom of the first for an early lead, but the Panthers erased that and took the lead for good with three runs in the second inning on Ashley Chesser’s RBI double and Sammey Bunch’s two-run homer.
Buchanan later added a solo homer and Macey Wolfe delivered a three-run clout that broke open a 5-2 game in the top of the seventh.
UNI 11-8, Illinois St. 1-2
N. Iowa 000 070 4 — 11 10 0
Illinois St. 000 000 1 — 1 7 1
Spencer and Varriano. Finck, Christner (5) and de los Reyes. WP—Spencer (13-7). LP—Finck (21-9). 2B—Spencer (UNI), Bunch (UNI), Hale (Ill. St.). HR—Bailey (UNI), Caliva (Ill. St.).
N. Iowa 031 100 3 — 8 7 1
Illinois St. 100 001 0 — 2 4 6
Buchanan and Varriano. Domkuski and de los Reyes. WP—Buchanan (13-2). LP—Domkuski (4-8). 2B—Chesser (UNI), Spence (Ill. St.). HR—Bunch (UNI), Buchanan (UNI), Wolfe (UNI), de los Reyes (Ill. St.).
Records: UNI 31-18, 19-6. Illinois St. 30-19, 20-5.