By: Ben Burke, KCOU Sports
In what was essentially a tune-up for the huge series this weekend against No. 1 Florida, the No. 11 Missouri softball team picked up two wins over Northern Iowa Wednesday, 4-2 and 10-9.
Although the Tigers took on a Panther team that went into the day with a 20-24 record in a Missouri Valley Conference that does not have a single ranked team, Missouri had trouble putting Northern Iowa away early in both games.
In game one, a Bill Buckner-esque error from Tiger second baseman Sami Fagan and a home run from Panther third baseman Rikki Alcaraz spotted Northern Iowa a 2-1 lead through four innings. The home run was the ninth of the season for Alcaraz, which leads the team.
Outside of giving up that home run, Missouri pitcher Paige Lowary was dominant on the mound. The freshman pitched her eighth complete game of the season, only allowing the one earned run on three hits and picking up nine strikeouts, one shy of her season best.
Panther pitcher Chelsea Ross matched Lowary’s effort through the first four innings. In the fifth, however, the Tigers finally got to Ross.
Fagan hit a 2-RBI double to drive in her team-leading 57th and 58th runs of the season, and scored on a single by catcher Kirsten Mack to give Lowary all the run support she needed to pick up her 17th win of the season.
Wanting to rest star pitcher Tori Finucane for this weekend, Missouri turned to Cheyenne Baxter to start just her second game this season in the second half of the double header. The sophomore had a very quick 1-2-3 inning to kick the game off, but was shelled for nine runs over the next three innings.
Home runs by Ross (who was the designated player in this one) and Caitlin Wnek fueled the Panther offensive attack in the second, third and fourth innings.
Northern Iowa’s No. 2 pitcher Alyssa Buchanan looked equally as shaky through the first two innings, allowing four Tigers to score. The sophomore quickly settled down after the second, and didn’t allow a run over the next three innings.
It wasn’t until the sixth inning, when the Panthers turned to Samantha Belz to finish things off on the mound, that the Tiger bats came alive.
Fagan kicked off the scoring with a bases-loaded single to bring the Tigers within four. That was all Missouri third baseman Amanda Sanchez would need, as she took Belz deep to left center field the very next at bat for her second grand slam of the season.
Tiger first baseman Kelsea Roth joined in the act with a solo shot of her own, and all of a sudden Missouri held a 10-9 lead after six. Lowary made her second appearance of the day in the seventh and sent the Panther hitters down in order for her third save of the year.
With the sweep, the Tigers improve to 37-11 on the season, while Northern Iowa falls to 20-26. Now, the Tigers will look forward to the highly anticipated home series against the No. 1 Florida Gators this weekend. First game is Friday, May 1 at 6:30 p.m.