Northwest softball first-year coach Naomi Tellez said the goal for the weekend was to get an MIAA sweep. The Bearcats did just that.
With a little help from head-strong Maryville winds, the Bearcats completed a two-game sweep of conference foe Pittsburg State, 11-1 and 5-4, April 23 at the Bearcat Softball Field.
“We decided, as a team, that we could either complain about the wind or embrace it,” freshman first baseman Skylar Pieper said. “We chose to embrace it.”
Pieper started the game for Northwest (12-35) with a solo home run that was carried over the right-field fence by the wind. Pieper’s hit sparked the Bearcat offense and before the end of the first inning, Northwest had taken a 3-0 lead thanks to junior catcher Madison Friest, who smacked a hit to right field to bring in a pair of runners.
“Once Skylar hit that, we just didn’t stop,” Tellez said.
Pitt State (22-25) continued to struggle in the top of the second inning, as Northwest sophomore infielder Abby Nolte shot a ball down the first-base line, paving the way for Pieper to step across home plate.
Sophomore utility Lauren Gray stepped up next and blasted a grand slam to right field with two outs left in the top of the second inning to give the Bearcats an 8-0 lead.
“I had a good feeling about our hitting; we all did,” Pieper said. “Hitting is contagious — once it starts, everyone else follows. Everyone fed off that energy, and in the blink of an eye, we were up eight runs in the second inning.”
With the Gorillas still in a slump, Northwest continued its dynamic batting, adding another run from junior outfielder Brylee Kemper’s solo shot in the top of the third. Pitt State managed to nab a run in the bottom of the third from sophomore utility Kori Stonestreet.
However, the Bearcats continued to attack in the fourth inning, capping off their hot batting with back-to-back home runs from Friest and Nolte. Northwest led Pitt State 11-1 at the end of the fourth inning.
The Bearcats held onto their lead with the help of sophomore Breck Dickey, who only allowed five hits and had nine strikeouts in the first game. With Dickey hot on the mound, the Bearcats took the first game from the Gorillas 11-1.
“It was really fun,” Tellez said. “We just dominated.”
In the second game, Northwest rallied from a 4-1 deficit to take a walk-off, 5-4 win over the Gorillas.
Friest started the game with a solo home run in the bottom of the first inning to give the Bearcats a 1-0 lead, but then they didn’t score until the bottom of the sixth.
The Gorillas emerged from their hitting slump, rattling off four runs in the second and third innings to take a 4-1 lead.
“We kind of hit a dead spot in the middle, but we just had to ride our energy,” Tellez said.
Northwest mustered its energy to hold Pitt scoreless for the fifth and sixth innings, and, finally, Nolte connected with a ball in the bottom of the sixth. She sent it over center field for her second home run of the day to bring the Bearcats within two runs.
Northwest sophomore pitchers Hayden Simmons and Raven McFrain continued to immobilize the Gorilla offense and set the Bearcats up for the walk-off win in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“We’ve had really good outings from a pitching perspective,” Tellez said. “Hayden and Raven in the second game, they kept us in it and just never stopped fighting.”
With two outs left and a pair of runners on base, junior infielder Olivia Daugherty hit a single to right field, clearing the way for Pieper to slide home to shrink the Gorillas’ lead to 4-3.
Like before, Nolte stepped up to the plate, smacked a ball over the center fielder and brought home junior utility Jacee Winn and Daugherty for the comeback win.
“Having people like Abby in the lineup behind you, you have that extra feeling of reassurance,” Pieper said. “You can trust that if you do your part, they will come through and do theirs.”
Northwest continued its streak April 26, defeating Missouri Southern (24-20) 3-1 in the first contest, but the Bearcats lost the second matchup 5-0.
The Bearcats will close out their season on the road April 29 against Central Missouri (15-32) and April 30 against Lincoln (12-31).