The third day at the MAC softball tournament pared the remaining field from six teams down to three and prepared us for Championship Saturday.
Regular season champion Central Michigan was the first team to go, as they fell in shutout fashion to NIU. Western Michigan then dispatched the tournament host Akron Zips. NIU and WMU then met in the final game of the day. That turned out to be a Coors Field-type affair, as the Huskies sent WMU packing.
Meanwhile, Ohio quietly posted its third straight shutout to move within a single win of the MAC championship. They will face either Kent State or NIU for the title.
Below are recaps of each of the day’s games, as well as the tournament schedule and results:
The MAC’s regular season champions will not advance to the NCAA Tournament.
The Chippewas were unceremoniously dispatched 3-0 by the Huskies on Friday morning after a combined shutout from NIU pitchers Keegan Hayes and Tara Thacker.
CMU’s Rachael Knapp allowed only one walk in the first two innings and retired the first batter of the third, but she ran into trouble when Jenny Van Geertry reached second base on an error. Following a line out and another walk, Kayti Grable lashed a single. Van Geertry beat the throw to the plate to give NIU a 1-0 lead.
The Huskies scored twice more in the fourth inning. Knapp walked leadoff batter Abby Howlett, who was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Knapp struck out Alaynie Woollard, but Dominique Greeno and Van Geertryeach drove home a run with back-to-back two-out singles.
CMU’s offense left a runner on base in each of the first three innings against Hayes, then had their best rally derailed by a rules violation in the fourth. With one our, Erika Underwood singled. Andrea Perlberg pinch-ran for Underwood, but during the next at-bat, she was called out at first base for leaving the bag early. That out proved costly. The next two batters singled and walked, but Hayes ended the inning by inducing a fly out from pinch hitter Sydney Heath.
Hayes stranded another CMU runner in the fifth inning, then Thacker retired all six batters she faced over the final two innings to end CMU’s season.
The Broncos dented the scoreboard early and often against MAC Freshman of the Year Lexie Handley, as WMU handed the Akron a 7-5 loss in the tenth game of the MAC Tournament. The loss eliminated the host Zips from the tournament and kept the Broncos alive for at least one more game.
Western Michigan began their scoring barrage with a pair of runs in the second inning. Kelsea Cichocki led off with a single and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and ground out. Courtney Sleeman slammed a two-out homer to left for a 2-0 lead.
Jordan Kurth tossed three perfect innings to start the game against Akron, but the Zips took the lead in the fourth. A single and walk put a pair of runners on for Laura Lakins, who singled home Taylor Kirian. Jessie Holzman pinch ran for Lakins, and when she tried to steal second, a throwing error by the catcher allowed Savannah Fruin to cross the plate. Kelly Hysong capped the inning with a two-run blast to give the Zips a 4-2 lead.
Handley started the following inning by recording a pair of outs. However, WMU answered with four hits to go with a walk and a hit batter. The result was five runs and a 7-4 lead. The main damage occurred when Aspen Williams laced a bases-clearing double to the left-center gap.
Akron got a run back in the fifth to climb within two but could not get any closer. The Zips put the leadoff batter on in the bottom of the seventh, but she was doubled off first on a fly out to end the game. Holly Vantilburg preserved the win for WMU with 3.1 innings pitched and no earned runs. Cichocki led the offense with three hits and two runs scored.
Savannah Dorsey pitched a third straight complete game shutout to lead the Bobcats to the brink of a MAC championship and a 2-0 victory over the Golden Flashes on Friday afternoon. Ohio has only scored five runs in the entire tournament, but they have not needed any more.
Kent State threatened with a pair of runners in scoring position during the first inning, but Dorsey slammed the door with a strikeout. The Flashes had another runner reach third in the second but again failed to score, as Dorsey struck out two more batters. Meanwhile, Ronnie Ladines was also excellent on the mound. She held the Bobcat lineup to just a single walk through four innings.
The scoreless deadlock was finally broken in the fifth inning. Alex Day tripled for Ohio to lead off the inning. One out later, Jamie Wren wrapped a single around the first baseman to drive home Day for a 1-0 lead. With two out and MacKenzie Brunswick up, Wren stole second. Brunswick followed with a single to bring Wren home. Wren then helped preserve the lead in the bottom half with a diving catch and a throw back to first to retire a KSU runner.
KSU had one final baserunner in the sixth inning but could make nothing of the rally. Dorsey struck out the final two batters in the seventh to seal the victory. She finished with nine strikeouts and only six hits allowed; she is now 23-6 overall with a miniscule 1.07 ERA. In the tournament, she has struck out 30 batters and allowed only 11 hits in 21 scoreless innings.
Ohio advances to the MAC championship game due to this victory. If the win the MAC title, it will also serve as a school-record 40th win for the team. Kent State drops to the loser’s bracket and will need to win three games on Saturday to win the MAC championship.
The Huskies rallied from a six-run deficit to win a 15-9 slugfest with the Broncos and eliminate WMU from the tournament. Neither team sustained much successful pitching throughout the game, as both teams posted multiple innings of four or more runs.
NIU broke into the run column in the second inning. Katie Lamich singled off the glove of pitcher Anissa Sanchez with one our. She moved to second on another hit, then scored on a double to the gap by Dominique Greeno. WMU answered right back in the bottom half. A pair of fielding errors and a single led to a run, then Ivy Schaaf hit a three-run bomb to left field for a 4-1 lead. It was only her third home run of 2017.
In the fourth, Jenny Van Geertry brought the Huskies closer with an RBI single. However, the Broncos answered with four more runs as WMU batted around. Schaaf drove in her fourth run of the game, then Mackenzie Swinehart doubled home two. Kelsea Cichocki singled home a final run to give WMU an 8-2 lead.
The rest of the game belonged to the Huskies. Kali Kossakowski hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth to close the gap to 8-3, but it was a later fly off her bat that wasn’t caught which changed the game. In the sixth, Alaynie Woollard led off with a solo home run to cut the deficit to 8-4. Two walks and a single loaded the bases, and that brought up Kossakowski again. This time, she tied the game with a grand slam to left field.
That opened the floodgates. NIU poured in seven runs in the seventh, as 13 batters came to the plate and earned five hits and five walks. Van Geertry tripled home the go-ahead runs in what became a 15-8 lead. The Broncos tried to rally in the bottom half but managed only one run for the 15-9 final.
NIU advances to Saturday’s action. They will face Kent State in the opening game, and the winner of that contest will then play Ohio for the MAC championship. The NIU/KSU winner will have to beat Ohio twice to win the title, so NIU will have to win three games on Saturday.
2017 MAC Softball Tournament Schedule (All times listed are Eastern)
Wednesday, May 10
Game 1: #4 Kent State 4, #5 Ball State 1
Game 2: #8 Western Michigan 3, #1 Central Michigan 1
Game 3: #2 Ohio 2, #7 Akron 0
Game 4: #3 Northern Illinois 5, #6 Miami 4
Thursday, May 11
Game 5: #1 Central Michigan 3, #5 Ball State 0 (Ball State eliminated)
Game 6: #4 Kent State 9, #8 Western Michigan 3
Game 7: #2 Ohio 1, #3 Northern Illinois 0
Game 8: #7 Akron 10, #6 Miami 2 (Miami eliminated)
Friday, May 12
Game 9: #3 Northern Illinois 3, #1 Central Michigan 0 (CMU eliminated)
Game 10: #8 Western Michigan 7, #7 Akron 5 (Akron eliminated)
Game 11: #2 Ohio 2, #4 Kent State 0
Game 12: #3 Northern Illinois 15, #8 Western Michigan 9 (WMU eliminated)
Saturday, May 13
(10:30 a.m.) Game 13 – #4 Kent State vs. #3 Northern Illinois (elimination game)
(1:00 p.m.) Game 14 – #2 Ohio 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.