DEKALB, Ill. – The Northern Illinois University softball team used the long ball to knock off Ohio, 2-0, in Mid-American Conference play at Mary M. Bell Field Saturday.
Solo home runs by Amanda Sheppard and Jennifer Barnett in the bottom of the fourth proved to be too much for the Bobcats (24-24, 7-10) to overcome and give Northern Illinois (19-28, 9-8) the win the series opener.
Emily Norton turned in another dominant performance from the circle, recording her second shutout in as many days. She scattered five hits and struck out five in seven innings of scoreless softball.
Norton pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the top of the fourth. With one out, the bags full, and no score, Norton got back-to-back infield fly outs to end the threat and give NIU the momentum heading into the bottom of the inning.
Sheppard broke the tie when she led off the Huskies’ fourth with a solo blast to left-centerfield. Two batters latter and one out, Barnett followed her fellow senior with a solo shot over the right-centerfield fence.
Nicole Gremillion kept the shutout in tact and ended the game in style when she threw out Amanda Dalton at the plate. After bobbling a Tessa Bailey single to left, Gremillion stayed with the play hit the cutoff man Ashley Kopp who fired to catcher Erika Oswald to make the tag.
“Nicole’s starting to make the throw before she has the ball right now,” said NIU head coach Christina Sutcliffe. “We’ve preached all year long, stay with the play, keep playing. We’ve shown we’ve been able to do that.”
Barnett went 1-for-2 on the day with an RBI and a run scored, while Sheppard went 1-for-3 with an RBI and run scored. In addition to her prowess at the plate, Sheppard has played exception defense during this homestand. She made several outstanding plays and robbed several Bobcats of easy hits.
“Shepp’s been solid for us all year,” Sutcliffe said of Sheppard’s performance. “It’s nice to see her having success on both sides of the ball. She’s been considered a defensive specialist, but when I came here, I told her she could be special on both sides of the ball. She’s proven that.”