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UNI softball falls to Southern Illinois in MVC Tournament title game, 3-2

NORMAL, Ill. - Two first inning home runs would not be enough for the Panther offense as UNI fell to Southern Illinois by a score of 3-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament championship game on Saturday at Illinois State's Marian Kneer Stadium.

NORMAL, Ill. – Two first inning home runs would not be enough for the Panther offense as UNI fell to Southern Illinois by a score of 3-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament championship game on Saturday at Illinois State’s Marian Kneer Stadium.

Northern Iowa left 11 runners on base and loaded the bags in the fourth inning but could not capitalize against the league top pitching staff, falling to the Salukis in the title game for the third time in the last seven seasons.

The Panthers cracked the scoreboard first with one out in the first inning as Alexis Pupillo and Kate Lappe launched back-to-back home runs over the center field fence for an early 2-0 lead. Samantha Heyer got the starting nod in the pitching circle for the third straight day and quickly retired the first three SIU hitters of the day.

A one-out double off the wall in right-center field would prompt a pitching change for the regular season champion Salukis, with MVC Pitcher and Freshman of the Year Maddia Groff exiting the game after just one and one-third inning. Madi Erbele would come into the game in relief and stifle Northern Iowa down the stretch as Moss would be tagged out at home after trying to score from third base on a wild pitch.

Southern Illinois cut UNI’s lead in half in the bottom of the second inning after Sidney Jones led off with a double to right-center, moved to third on an Emma Austin sacrifice bunt and an RBI single to left field by Bailey Caylor. The Saluki run scored would prompt a Panther pitching change as Anna Wischnowski entered the game for Heyer.

After a lead-off walk by Lappe in the third inning did not produce any runs, SIU would tie the game on a one-out home run to right-center field by Rylie Hamilton. Ava Smithson led of the top of the fourth with a single to left-field, followed up by a Sammy Moss walk. After consecutive pop ups by Daryn Lamprecht and Madison Parks, as well as an intentional walk of Pupillo, Lappe would be unable to put the Panthers ahead on a groundout to the pitcher.

The Salukis would grab their first lead of the game in the bottom of the fifth as MVC Player of the Year Jackie Lis led off with a single to left-center, just off the glove of a diving Kylee Sanders at shortstop. After consecutive SIU flyouts, Jones gave the tournament’s top-seeded team a 3-2 lead with the go-ahead double to center-field.

UNI would get base runners in the final two innings with Lamprecht walking and Pupillo again being intentionally walked in the sixth with no Panthers being able to cross home plate. Taylor Hogan would give Northern Iowa an opportunity on a two-out single up the middle and an advancement to second base on a field error, but would not be able to tie the contest on a game-ending flyout to center.

Following the game, four Panthers were recognized with tournament honors, including the selection of Pupillo, Wischnowski and Sanders to the MVC All-Tournament Team. Heyer was named the 2024 recipient of the MVC Elite 17 Award for softball after posting the highest cumulative grade-point average for student-athletes competing in the championship game.

UNI finishes the 2024 season with a record of 33-17 and an 18-6 mark in league play.

2024 MVC ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM

Elizabeth Warwick (Southern Illinois) [MVP]
Maddia Groff (Southern Illinois)
Madi Eberle (Southern Illinois)
Rylie Hamilton (Southern Illinois)
Alexis Pupillo (UNI)
Anna Wischnowski (UNI)
Kylee Sanders (UNI)
Olivia Krehbiel (Missouri State)
Gracie Johnson (Missouri State)
Abby Knight (Illinois State)
Paige McLeod (Illinois State)
Grace Gressly (Belmont)
Zoe Frossard (Evansville)
Lauren DeRolf (Bradley)
Erin Lackey (Murray State)
Isabella Henning (Indiana State)
Carey Koening (Drake)
Sydney McDermott (Valparaiso)
Larisa Villa (UIC)

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