Katie Bertelsen matched three-time All-MVC selection Jaime Fisher pitch-for-pitch for 10 innings before taking a 2-1 loss.
March 15, 2014
By John Lock
CARBONDALE, Ill. - The Southern Illinois softball team dropped two one-run games to preseason Missouri Valley Conference favorite Northern Iowa on Saturday afternoon. Southern lost a 2-1 decision in 10 innings in the conference opener before falling 5-4 in the second game.
"We had a lot of fight all day," head coach Kerri Blaylock said. "We didn't get some hits with runners in scoring position and two outs that really cost us. Other than that, we've fought all year. We've done a great job fighting."
Facing three-time first-team All-MVC pitcher Jaime Fisher in the first game, the Salukis (10-12, 0-2 MVC) got a gem in the circle from Katie Bertelsen. After giving up a lead-off home run in the second inning, Bertelsen threw seven scoreless innings and did not allow another earned run.
The Salukis knew runs would be in short supply against Fisher, who was the 2012 MVC Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore. SIU got only one base runner in its first 13 at-bats against the righty, but Shaye Harre took Fisher deep in the 14th SIU at-bat of the game. It was Harre's team-leading third home run of the year.
The round-tripper came in the midst of Bertelsen's best stretch of the game. From the last out of the third inning through the fifth, Bertelsen sat down seven straight hitters and didn't allow a ball to leave the infield. Down the stretch, Bertelsen matched Fisher and pitched out of jams in the sixth and eighth innings.
"This was (Bertelsen's) best game she's thrown all year, by far," Blayock said. "If I can get her to duplicate that game every game, she'll win a ton of ballgames."
In the bottom of the eighth, Jayna Spivey nearly won it with a long fly ball to right field with one out, but the throw to the plate was on target and beat Gonzalez to the plate.
"The thing with Fisher is that it's going to be a 2-1, 1-0, 3-2 ballgame," Blaylock said. "We had it where we needed it, and the kid in right field made a phenomenal play. We hit what I thought was a sac fly, and the kid made the throw. They're picked No. 1 (preseason MVC) for a reason."
A 10th-inning two-out error proved costly, with the free base runner scoring the game-winning run. The Salukis put themselves in position to take the lead in the bottom half of the 10th. Kelsea Ashton started off the inning with a single, followed by a Kelsey Gonzalez walk. After Taylor Orsburn popped out to center field, Michelle Glenn sacrificed Ashton and Gonzalez to third and second base, respectively. Spivey had another chance to win the game but grounded out to the pitcher to end the game.
The Salukis found themselves in a quick hole in the second game. Northern Iowa scored in each of the first three innings, including a three-run, two-homer second inning. Starting pitcher Shaye Harre was struck by a line drive in the first inning and was taken out of the game in the second inning.
Two innings later, Harre's apparent replacement in the batting order, Caylee Cook, led off the fourth inning with a solo home run. UNI protested, and Cook was called out for not appearing on the home umpire's card for replacing Harre.
Facing a 5-0 deficit, Southern struck for three runs in the fifth and another run in the sixth to come within one run. As in the first game, Southern bent the Panthers but couldn't break through them with a clutch hit at the end.
"We have a really gutsy team," Blaylock said. "They're fighters. That's on thing I'm really proud of them for; they fight hard."
The Salukis and Panthers square off again one last time on Sunday at 12 p.m. at Charlotte West Stadium.