The first day of the 2017 Mid-American Conference softball tournament is complete, and it provided a quartet of close games, including a major upset and an epic, walk-off win.
Top-seeded Central Michigan lost and is the first top seed to lose its opening MAC tourney game since 2013. Ohio and Akron had a great pitchers duel that ended with a home run. The Miami-NIU game came down to the final inning, and Kent State got some great pitching to move into the winner’s bracket.
Below are recaps of the day’s games and an updated schedule:
The Golden Flashes led off the MAC tournament with a decisive victory over the Cardinals. Ronnie Ladines won her 16th game of the season by striking out 13 with no walks while allowing only one hit and no earned runs.
Ladines’ 13 strikeouts are her second highest total of the season. She also began the game’s scoring by crushing a second-inning home run. Left fielder Emily Dobbin later tripled home Olivia Sborlini to give KSU all the runs they would need and a 2-0 lead. Dobbin later drove in a second run on a sacrifice fly, while Holly Speers added her 14th home run of the season in the fifth.
Ball State’s only substantial threat occurred in the sixth inning, when three consecutive errors loaded the bases. Ladines then hit Rachel Houck with a pitch to bring home the Cardinals’ only run. Ladines then struck out three straight batters to end the inning.
The top overall seed in the MAC Tournament lost their opening game for the first time since 2013, as the MAC regular season champion Chippewas fell 3-1 to the eighth-seeded Broncos.
The game started well for CMU, as MAC Pitcher of the Year Rachael Knapp breezed through the Broncos in the top of the first. In the bottom of the frame, leadoff batter Lacey Tolfree was hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a bunt by Allison Curtis. Maison Kalina then singled home Tolfree for a 1-0 lead, but CMU did not score again. Knapp maintained the lead by retiring the first 11 Bronco batters before walking Kelsea Cichocki in the fourth.
WMU’s Aspen Williams finally broke up the no-hitter with a one-out single in the fifth. The Broncos loaded the bases with another single and a walk, then tied the game on a fielder’s choice grounder from second baseman Erin Barg. Knapp escaped the jam without further damage to keep the game tied 1-1. The Broncos earned another crack at the lead when Cichocki reached on an error with one out in the sixth. Cleanup batter Abby Stoner crushed a home run to center for a 3-1 lead. It was her ninth of the season and just the seventh given up by Knapp.
CMU did not threaten again until they were down to their final out. Morgan Gardner and Kaila Fulker earned back-to-back singles, and when pinch runner Andrea Perlberg moved to third on the Fulker single, Fulker advanced to second on the throw. With the tying runs in scoring position, Sydney Heath hit a bouncing grounder to the left side. Pinch runner Shanel Waters broke for third, but the ball was fielded and thrown to Cichocki, who made the tag for the final out.
Broncos’ pitcher Anissa Sanchez scattered five hits and walked no one for a complete game victory.
Madison Clayton sent the Bobcats to the winner’s bracket of the MAC Tournament in walk-off fashion by blasting a no-doubt home run to left field for a 2-0 victory over the Zips.
The game was a classic pitcher’s duel for six innings between MAC Freshman of the Year Lexie Handley of Akron and MAC ERA champ Savannah Jo Dorsey of Ohio. Dorsey allowed a pair of singles to lead off the game. However, one of the runners was erased in a run down, and Dorsey retired the next two. She allowed only two more hits for the remainder of the game. Meanwhile, the Bobcat offense managed only two singles through five innings against Handley.
Ohio’s offense finally broke out of its funk in the sixth with a pair of singles up the middle and a one-out walk. However, Handley escaped the jam when Taylor Saxton was retired at home on a fielder’s choice grounder to short by Alex Day. Handley then induced a pop up from Natalie Alvarez to retire the side.
In the bottom of the seventh, Jamie Wren led off and laced her second triple of the season to left center. That brought up Clayton. Handley’s first pitch caused Clayton to hit a pop foul, but it was dropped by catcher Caroline Cahill. Shortly after, Clayton hit the walk-off home run.
Dorsey struck out seven and walked nobody while scattering just four hits, as she earned her 21st win of the season. It’s her 23rd complete game and fifth shutout in 26 starts, and her ERA is now just 1.18.
The Huskies overcame a two-run deficit in the first inning and four errors to take down the RedHawks 5-4 in the Wednesday finale. NIU batters powered out two-run homers in the fourth and fifth innings, then withstood a Miami rally to get the win.
Johniann Wahl singled for Miami with two out in the first and a runner on. Both runners advanced to scoring position on a throwing error by center fielder Jenny Van Geertry. Lauren Anderson followed with a grounder to shortstop Kali Kossakowski that should have ended the inning. Anderson’s ball got through for a fielding error, and both runners scored to give the RedHawks a 2-0 lead. Kossakowski posted two more fielding errors in the first four innings, but NIU pitcher Alex Franz worked around them.
NIU’s offense finally tagged Miami starter Shannon Hohman for runs in the fourth. Kossakowski led off with a double and advanced to third on a sacrifice. She then scored when Katie Lamich hit a grounder; Lamich reached when Miami tried to throw out the runner at home. That decision proved costly when Abby Howlett cracked a home run to right field for a 3-1 lead. It was Howlett’s fifth dinger of the year. NIU added two more runs in the fifth when Bekah Harnish singled and Kayti Grable followed with her ninth homer of 2017.
Miami responded with two outs in the sixth. Rylee Whispel (.224) singled into right field. Jenna Jones, who came into the game with a .206 average, hit her first triple of the year to score Whispel. Kara Leckinger followed with a pinch-hit single which cut the NIU lead to 5-4. That chased Frenz in favor of relief pitcher Tara Thacker. Thacker induced a pop up to end the inning, then three straight pop ups to retire the side in the seventh and seal the win.
2017 MAC Softball Tournament Schedule (All times listed are Eastern)
Wednesday, May 10
#4 Kent State 4, #5 Ball State 1
#8 Western Michigan 3, #1 Central Michigan 1
#2 Ohio 2, #7 Akron 0
#3 Northern Illinois 5, #6 Miami 4
Thursday, May 11
(10:30 a.m.) Game 5 – #1 Central Michigan vs #5 Ball State (elimination game)
(1:00 p.m.) Game 6 – #4 Kent State vs #8 Western Michigan
(3:30 p.m.) Game 7 – #2 Ohio vs #3 Northern Illinois/#6 Miami
(6:00 p.m.) Game 8 – #3 Northern Illinois/#6 Miami vs #7 Akron (elimination game)
Friday, May 12
(10:30 a.m.) Game 9 – Game 5 winner vs. Game 7 loser (elimination game)
(1:00 p.m.) Game 10 – Game 8 winner vs. Game 6 loser (elimination game)
(3:30 p.m.) Game 11 – Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 winner
(6:00 p.m.) Game 12 – Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner (elimination game)
Saturday, May 13
(10:30 a.m.) Game 13 – Game 11 loser vs. Game 12 winner (elimination game)
(1:00 p.m.) Game 14 – Game 11 winner vs. Game 13 winner (Championship game)
Note: if the Game 13 winner also wins Game 14, then a winner-take-all championship game will be played 30 minutes following Game 14.