April 25, 2009

Bears softball makes history on first day of DI Independent Tournament

BOX SCORE: vs. Cal State Bakersfield
BOX SCORE: vs. Houston Baptist

GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado scored three runs in the eighth inning against Houston Baptist on Friday night at Butler-Hancock Softbal Field and held on for a 6-4 victory and a day-one split at this year's NCAA Division I Independent Tournament.

And just like that, the Bears finally ended a six-game losing streak -- extended earlier in the day with a tough-to-swallow 7-6 eight-inning loss to Cal State Bakersifield -- and improved to 17-28 and into the Northern Colorado history books as the winningest Division I team in school history.

The 17 wins of this year's squad eclipses the school record set just one year ago when Jen Schunke's program won 16 games.

The Bears' split Friday, paired with Houston Baptist's 8-3 victory against Cal State Bakersfield in the late game, earned Northern Colorado a second-place Pool B finish and a spot in the first bracket game at noon Saturday against either North Dakota or Seattle, who will start things off Saturday with the final pool-play contest at 9:30 a.m.

"I'm really proud of these girls," Schunke said. "We've been making strides almost every game for the last three years and it's nice to see so much improvement being made on a yearly basis.

"Today, we just really came up big in the second game in some type of spots where we weren't able to capitalize on in the first game. It seemed like we left a ton of people out there against (Cal State) Bakersfield, but we were able to drive some of those in against HBU."

Northern Colorado stranded 20 runners in the two games, but only eight of those came in the nightcap against the Huskies. And although two Bears were left on the bags in the final inning, Northern Colorado was able to plate three runs on two hits when it mattered the most.

Courtney Maihi, running in place of shortstop Jessica McNabb, who started the eighth inning on second base because of tournament extra-inning rules, put Northern Colorado up 4-3 after Hillarie Van Otterloo reached base on a throwing error by HBU's first baseman.

Kailee Vessey then followed with a single to second, and Katelyn Landorf broke out of a hitting slump with a perfectly placed single to right that scored Van Otterloo and moved Vessey to third.

Erin Geddis then reached on an error by the Huskies' shortstop, scoring Vessey and giving Northern Colorado all the runs it would need.

It all served as a perfect exclamation point on the comeback staged by Northern Colorado, which found itself down 3-0 in the first inning almost before it could blink after an ineffective start in the circle from Van Otterloo, who gave up four hits in her third of an inning.

But Jamie Juelfs came on to relieve Van Otterloo and pitched one of her best games of the season, holding Houston Baptist to three hits and one run (none earned) in seven and two-thirds innings.

Juelfs' work out of the pen allowed Northern Colorado to slowly chip away at the Huskies' advantage and eventually pull away in extra innings and make some program history.

"Jamie Juelfs pitched about as well tonight as I've ever seen her pitch," Schunke said. "I don't know if I've ever seen her that in the zone or that locked in as I saw her here against HBU. She was really good for us and obviously gave us a chance to get the bats working."

Game 1 vs. Cal State Bakersfield

Van Otterloo's two-run home run in the top of the seventh earlier Friday put Northern Colorado up 5-3 against the Roadrunners and sent the home crowd into walk-off mode.

But a coin flip prior to the game put Cal State Bakersfield as the home team, meaning they got a chance to answer in their half of the seventh.

And answer they did.

The Roadrunners scored twice in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at five and, following a single run from the Bears in the eighth, got two more in their half of the eighth to get the win.

Kelli Henderson started in the circle for the Bears and took the loss after allowing seven runs (five earned) on 11 hits in seven and two-thirds. It was the second-longest outing of the season for Henderson, who pitched into the ninth in a nip-and-tuck affair against Colorado State a couple weeks ago.