CEDAR FALLS — What a difference a day makes.
Northern Iowa was not nearly as explosive offensively Sunday in their series finale with Evansville as it was Saturday in sweeping the Aces. But the Panthers were explosive at the right time.
Anna Varriano’s solo home run over the scoreboard in the bottom of the eighth inning lifted UNI to a walk-off home run to help the Panthers pull out a 3-2 victory over the Aces and a series sweep.
“I was working my plan each time up and looking for the inside pitch,” Varriano said. “They have been throwing that all weekend and that is exactly what I got this time. I knew if I stayed patient and looked for it I could do some damage with it.
“When you get a hold of those pitches it just feels a lot different, and that felt good,” added Varriano.
UNI racked up 21 runs in their softball double header sweep of Evansville on Saturday, while banging out 24 hits.
On Sunday, with temperatures flirting with the mid 40’s, the Panthers offense was somewhat colder, as they counted on their outstanding defensive play to complete the sweep.
The first big defensive gem came in the top of the fourth after Brittany Hay had given the Aces a 2-1 lead on a RBI single, Evansville’s second run of the inning. But the Aces potential for a bigger inning was cut down when Varriano connected with shortstop Sammey Bunch to shoot down Hay stealing second.
“That was a really important play for us as it kept them from scoring more runs,” said Varriano. “I could not have done that though, without Bunch being right there.”
Earlier in the inning with the Aces already threatening, third baseman, Alicia Crivaro came up with yet another great play from the Panthers defense.
With runners setting at second and third with one out, Crivaro dove toward the infield side to snag a hard hit ball by Tess Hupe. Crivaro came up clean on one knee forcing the runner back, then was able to send a fireball toward first gunning down Hupe.
“We always preach about keeping the ball in the infield and we didn’t get a lot of those opportunities yesterday,” Crivaro said. “I had two shots just before that play where I dove except those were toward the line. When I got this one and came up I did not think I would have a play at first. I have always had a strong arm and was a little shocked I still had time to make the throw.”
Crivaro’s throw kept the Aces off the board for a moment, and seem to spark the defense.
“I always want the ball and before the play I always anticipate the ball coming to me,” said the Des Moines Dowling senior. “I think today our defense really came through.”
While the defense was making big plays, the offense made just enough to force the extra inning affair.
The Panthers got in the score book first with a solo slam by Ashley Chesser in the second frame, that chased center fielder Courtney Land to the fence to no avail. Varriano took a walk in the sixth inning, her second of the day, and Bunch doubled her home to tie the contest a 2-2.
Starting pitcher Alyssa Buchanan threw a good game for the home team, but was snake bitten by two bloop singles, the first scratch hit scored the Aces first run. Buchannan was lifted in the sixth for Waterloo West graduate Jaci Spencer and Spencer kept Evansville’s bats quiet over the next three innings, allowing just two hits and striking out four to pick up the win and improve to 7-5.
“Today was a tough game and they had us on the ropes every inning,” Jacobs said. “We didn’t play that bad, we just did not get the hits like we did yesterday, and I thought Jaci did a good job coming in out of the bullpen.
“I like how they did not panic and these girls know that the next person in needs to step up and do what they had to do,” added Jacobs. “This cold may have had something to do with it as well, but we got three wins this weekend at home and that was big.”
The Panthers (18-13, 6-3) will host Southern Illinois next weekend.
UNI 3, EVANSVILLE 2
Evansville 000 200 00—2 6 1
UNI 010 001 01—3 6 1
Downing and Scott. Buchanan, Spencer (6) and Varriano. WP—Spencer (7-5), LP—Downing (0-5). HR—Chesser (UNI), Varriano (UNI). 2B—Scott (E), Bunch (UNI).