Sophomore outfielder Jenn Lucas’ walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth inning propelled the Eastern Michigan University softball team to a 14-13 victory over its Mid-American Conference foe University of Toledo Rockets, in game two of an afternoon doubleheader on Friday at Varsity Field.
“[The walkoff] felt really good, actually,” Lucas said. “It was one of the best hits of my softball career.”
EMU coach Karen Baird said the extra-inning win was big for her team, after losing game one by a 13-8 score.
“This team needed it,” Baird said. “This team was very determined; I am very proud of them. That was a total team effort. We had home runs from people who you don’t usually get home runs from … it was awesome.”
Sophomore Lindsay Rich (ND, 5-5) got the start for the Eagles (12-26-1, 2-10 MAC) after lasting only two innings in her game one start hours earlier. She lasted only two short innings again for EMU, giving up six earned runs on seven hits, while walking two and recording no strikeouts.
Senior Jenna Ignowski (W, 7-6) took over in the third inning and went the rest of the way. In six innings, she gave up seven earned runs on 12 hits, walking one batter and striking out nine.
Ignowski totaled 9 2/3 innings of relief on Friday, 2/3 of an inning more than EMU baseball pitcher Brian Hill did a little over a mile away at Oestrike Stadium.
“I didn’t really notice how many innings I threw,” Ignowski said. “It felt good to finally come out and feel dominant and get the job done. Lately, the team’s been doing great, but the pitchers are struggling a little bit.”
For the Rockets (12-26, 5-9 MAC), Alli Beery got the start, but couldn’t get out of the first inning. She surrendered five earned runs on seven hits and walked one batter before being pulled in favor of Marla Gooding (L, 7-14).
Gooding pitched seven innings of relief, giving up nine runs (six earned) on 13 hits, walking one and striking out five.
Senior shortstop Katy Blaharski went 5-for-5 in game two.
“[Blaharski] had such awesome bat control in all of her [at bats],” Baird said. “You could just tell she just had control of what she was going to do and she led us. When you have a leadoff hitter doing those things, that’s phenomenal.”
Blaharski chimed in on her performance after the game.
“I was seeing the ball very well today,” Blaharski said. “It was coming like a beach ball, and that’s the way I like it.”
Down 1-0, the Eagles scored five runs in the home half of the first inning, capped off by a grand slam from sophomore second baseman Amanda Stanton. It was her first home run of the game and third of the afternoon. She finished the game 3-for-4.
“I feel really good,” Stanton said. “It feels really good to get some nice hits. It was a good day.”
Baird said Stanton’s successes are just beginning.
“Everyone just wanted to touch [Stanton], she was so hot,” Baird said. “For her to get three home runs today … she has been somebody who has come on for us very strong hitting-wise this year and it’s so much fun to see her play that way … everybody gets that feeling with her right now that something big is going to happen.”
Her teammates took notice of her stellar performance as well.
“She was a freak today,” Blaharski said. “She was ridiculous.”
Up 5-1, the Eagles seemed to implode in innings two, three and four; giving up eight runs, six of which came in the third inning.
After giving up two of the six second inning runs, Baird made the switch for EMU, bringing Ignowski in to pitch for Rich. With Ignowski on the mound, the Eagles made a push in the middle innings, eventually scoring three runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth to regain a 11-9 lead.
Baird and Blaharski both got behind the senior pitcher, praising her determination, despite the number of runs she gave up.
“She had a few runs and she was very mad at herself about those few runs,” Baird said. “But you saw her fight in the eighth inning and shut them down in that eighth inning to give ourselves the opportunity [to come back].”
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: she’s a fighter,” Blaharski said. “She didn’t let [the runs] get to her. She kept coming back out and coming back out.”
The Rockets didn’t quit, though, as Toledo scored four runs in the top of the seventh to take a 13-11 lead. Two of those runs came on a two-run single by Lani Ernst.
Ernst hit a screaming line drive to right fielder Mady Hostetler, who had the ball in her glove before landing awkwardly on her left wrist, causing the ball to fall out of the glove. Hostetler was injured in the attempt and was forced to leave the game.
After the game, Baird was quick to point out that the injury was not as bad as it looked, but would not say anything further.
Despite losing the lead, the Eagles would not be counted out.
Senior outfielder Courtney Nicholson, showing no ill effects of a collision with Lucas in the first inning of game one, smacked a two-run shot to left, tying the game and forcing extra innings.
A two-out single would be it for Toledo in the top of the eighth, and Lucas led off the home half with a moon shot to left center, sealing the win for the Eagles.
After the game, Ignowski commented on the way the offense picked things up in game two.
“Our team came out and crushed the ball today,” Ignowski said. “As a pitcher, it’s so nice to know that your team has your back and that they’re going to put the ball in play and make things happen.”
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho