Softball sweeps Siena Heights for first half of weekend slate

#24 Grenadiers breeze through day game, rally late in nightcap to sweep Saints as part of packed weekend schedule

Ellie+Jackman+barely+beats+the+tag+of+Siena+Heights%27+Lily+Guerra+to+steal+second+base+during+game+two+of+a+doubleheader+against+the+Saints+on+March+6.

Brandon Miniard

Ellie Jackman barely beats the tag of Siena Heights’ Lily Guerra to steal second base during game two of a doubleheader against the Saints on March 6.

Brandon Miniard, Sports Editor

The IUS Softball team continues to impress in the early goings of the 2021 campaign. Despite suffering their first loss of the season after splitting a midweek doubleheader against #5 Marian University, the #24 Grenadiers came into the weekend with a 7-1 record, on pace to tie the 19-2-1 record they set during the shortened 2020 campaign.

The Grenadiers continued their run of dominance early on when they welcomed Siena Heights University (Mich.) to Koetter Sports Complex for a doubleheader on Saturday, March 6. The Grenadiers dominated the day game 8-1 but needed a rally late to come back and defeat the Saints 9-5.

“Our players are just hungry, they want to play and are living and breathing this weather,” Head Coach Joe Witten said. “Being off last year, they’re not taking anything for granted.”

The Grenadiers kicked the twin billing off in the bottom of the first when Ashtyn Sharp reached on a one-out single before advancing to second on a wild pitch. Sharp then scuttled home as Saints’ centerfielder Julia Hogston dropped a fly ball from Dallas Henderson to give the Grenadiers an early 1-0 lead.

The Saints answered right back in the top of the second when Haley Rose and Sam Spicer hit consecutive doubles, allowing pinch-runner Lauren Murphy to score and tie the contest.

The tied ballgame lasted only until the bottom of the third as the Grenadiers notched a four-run inning, led off by a one-out single and stolen base from Madeline Probus. Sharp and Henderson followed with back-to-back RBI doubles to give the Grenadiers the lead for good. A 3-1 lead wasn’t enough for Kelsey Warman, launching a 2-0 pitch over the right-field fence for a two-run home run, growing the Grenadier advantage to 5-1.

That was all the offense needed for ace Hannah Ogg, who allowed only one run on four hits, striking out eight over six dominant innings. However, the Grenadiers wanted insurance and got it in the sixth as Miranda Miller led off with a single and stolen base before coming home on an Ellie Jackman RBI triple.

Macie Zink followed with an RBI single before Ysa Fox brought her home on an RBI double to left-center to cap off the contest. In the seventh, Kasey Pearson shut the door despite allowing a one-out walk, sealing the 8-1 victory.

“Honestly, I think we had a vengeance today,” Warman said. “We knew we had a job to do and needed to start connecting a little bit better.”

Dallas Henderson takes a pitch off the elbow from Siena Heights’ Jordan Green, earning a free trip to first base during game two of a doubleheader against the Saints on March 6. (Brandon Miniard)

In the nightcap, the Saints struck first when Sam Hill led off with an infield single before being bunted to second. With two outs, Hill rushed home after Lindsey Nelson mishandled a groundball from Sam Spicer, giving the Saints an early 1-0 edge.

The Grenadiers responded in the bottom half when Henderson was hit by a pitch, followed by Warman drawing a two-out walk. Nelson redeemed herself for her prior miscue in the most peculiar way possible, reaching base on a would-be popup that landed fair right in front of home plate. The ball then rolled away from the catcher Spicer, allowing both runners to score, giving the Grenadiers a 2-1 lead.

The blunder did not deter the Saints, who fought back in the top of the second when Maddie Herrera drew a leadoff walk and was bunted to second and advanced to third on a flyout. Hogston brought Herrera home on an RBI single before Hill ripped a triple to left, giving the Saints the lead once more at 3-2.

The next two frames were scoreless, but the Saints began to brew more trouble in the fifth when Uhl reached base on a bobble by Probus, followed by singles from Spicer and Rose to load the bases, chasing Grenadier starter Gabby Mahoney from the contest. Despite having to deal with Ogg in the circle once again, the Saints managed two more runs off a Herrera RBI fielder’s choice and Alexis Hirst scoring on a wild pitch, pushing the Saints’ advantage to 5-2.

The Grenadiers weren’t done yet, scoring a run in the bottom half when Zink led off the frame with her second home run of the year, a solo shot over the left-field fence to cut the Saints’ lead to 5-3.

Zink’s dinger was merely a sign of things to come, as the Grenadiers broke through against Saints’ starter Jordan Green. Sharp led off the frame with a single before coming home on an RBI triple from Henderson. Warman followed with a single to right to plate Henderson and tie the contest.

The inning was far from over for the Saints, however. After a single from Nelson and a bunt single from Kaitlyn Flowers loaded the bases, Zink ripped a line drive to the right-field fence for a bases-clearing triple to give the Grenadiers the lead for good. Miller added insurance in the frame by bringing home Zink on a sacrifice fly, pushing the Grenadier lead to 9-5.

“During that at-bat, my mindset was just to go opposite-field to score the runners at second and third,” Zink said of her game-winning hit. “I was also just very relaxed in the box and typically block out the voices in my head when I go to the plate. But I felt my team in the dugout really hyping me up.”

Ogg (6-0) finished off the Saints in the seventh to earn her second win on the day, giving up only two hits over three innings pitched. The right-hander pitched nine innings between the two contests, allowing one run on six hits, striking out 10 batters. On the year, she is currently pitching to a minuscule 1.34 ERA over 41.2 innings pitched.

“She’s as physically fit as she’s ever been and worked extremely hard this season, Witten said of his ace. “I know she’s throwing a lot, but she wants the ball in the circle. She pitched about 300 innings one year in junior college, so she’s used to it.”

Alongside the sweep of the Saints, the Grenadiers returned to Koetter Sports Complex the following day to host the University of Saint Francis (Ind.) for a doubleheader, sweeping the Cougars by scores of 10-5 and 2-1.

With those victories, the Grenadiers improve to 11-1 on the year, on pace to possibly the historic shortened campaign of 2020. These victories come without Brooklyn Gibbs’ aid, as she’s currently out with a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) in her left thumb. According to Gibbs, she is expected to undergo surgery to repair the tear this week, though her return timetable is currently unknown.

“It’s up to the professionals to look at it closely and we’re just playing it day-by-day,” Witten said. “When they tell us we can get her back, we’ll make sure she’s at one hundred percent because she’s a special player and is going to help us be a championship-caliber team.”

The Grenadiers continue their homestand on Tuesday, March 9, when they host the University of St. Francis (Ill.) for a doubleheader. First pitch for the day game is scheduled for 2 p.m.