CEDAR FALLS — The 2020 Doc Halverson UNI-Dome Classic means the college softball season is now in full swing.
Host Northern Iowa began the tournament on a rough note, losing both its games Friday and splitting two games Saturday.
Sunday, the Panthers turned things around by winning twice. UNI posted a 7-6, extra-inning victory over DePaul and then finished the weekend with a 9-4 drubbing of South Dakota.
“I liked the way we responded today after the way we played the first two days,” said UNI head coach Ryan Jacobs. “Today the girls came out with a different competitive attitude, and sometimes it just takes a few games to get into a groove.”
The Panthers (3-3) took six innings to find their groove Sunday, and when they did it was senior leader Sammey Bunch who got things going.
Saturday, Bunch engraved her name into the UNI record books as she surpassed Jen Larsen for career home runs when she hit her 31st. Larsen’s name and 30 career long balls held the top spot for nine years.
Sunday Bunch drove a three-run rocket over the fence in left-center against DePaul for her 32nd, pulling UNI within 5-3 of the Blue Demons.
“I was aware coming into this season that I was close,” said Bunch. “When I tied it I wasn’t really even thinking about that until after the game. I am a very competitive person and I am just trying to help the team. Even after I broke it, the thought was there but we needed runs so I was concentrating on that.”
The Panthers tied the game 5-5 in the sixth, but went into the bottom of the eighth down 6-5.
Bunch took second base to start the inning as per extra-inning rules, and catcher Ashley Chesser drove her home to tie the game again.
Adara Opiola reached base and advanced to second on a throw. Senior Jenny Kohl the stepped to the plate and delivered a blooping shot over the shortstop’s grasp to drive Opiola in for a thrilling finish.
“I just went up there with the mentality to hit it hard and hope to have it fall somewhere,” said Kohl. “When I hit it I knew it would drop and I just checked over my shoulder to make sure the run scored.
“It was a long weekend of softball and it was a fun way to get that win. This team has a great fighter mentality.”
The nightcap was more to Jacobs’ liking as the Panther bats cranked out 11 hits and produced nine runs.
Chesser put a big hurt on the Coyotes with a pair of homers, driving in three runs and scoring three times, and Hannah Kelley delivered three hits that drove in five runs, including a two-run dinger in the sixth inning.
Jacobs admired the fight in his team, but also knows it is a long grueling season and there is a lot to improve on yet.
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“The bats really came to life today,” he said. “The good thing about this game is it is always a learning process. We added a few new players and it takes awhile to get back to that game feel.
“We had a good offseason but we kind of went backwards a little bit here. We have to work on those small opportunities we get and take advantage of them. We have a good list of things to get better at before we head to Arizona next weekend.”
UNI 7, DEPAUL 6
DePaul 300 002 01 — 6 9 1
UNI 000 005 02 — 7 4 2
Krista Dalgarn, Natalie Halvorson (6), Erin Hocker (7) and Gabby O’Riley. Erica Oler, Madison Parks (8) and Ashley Chesser. WP — Oler (2-0). LP — Hocker (0-1). HR — Erin Andris (DP), Sammey Bunch (UNI). 2B — Angela Scalzitti (DP), O’Riley (DP).
UNI 9, SOUTH DAKOTA 4
S. Dakota 200 010 1 — 4 7 0
UNI 221 112 x — 9 11 2
Alexis Devers, Sarah Lisko (2) and Kiersten Denning. Samantha Heyer and Chesser. WP — Heyer (1-2), LP — Devers (1-1). HR — Hannah Kelley (UNI), Chesser 2 (UNI). 2B — Camille Fowler (SD), Lauren Eamiguel (SD), Aleesia Sainz (SD), Kelley (UNI).
SOUTH DAKOTA 6, UNI 1
S. Dakota 000 400 2 — 6 10 0