The 2019 season for IU softball officially ended on Sunday night after the team failed to receive a NCAA Tournament berth.
For week multiple media outlets had the Hoosiers firmly in the NCAA Tournament. However, as the season went on, the inconsistency proved too much to overcome.
The disappointment culminated in an early Big Ten Tournament exit when No. 18 Northwestern eliminated IU in the second round with a 2-0 victory, and effectively ending IU’s chance at a Women’s College World Series run.
In order for IU to make it deep into postseason play, it was imperative for its offense to give the pitching staff run support. With a pair of top Big Ten pitchers in senior Tara Trainer and junior Emily Goodin, the Hoosiers have rarely had to worry about their pitching staff this season. But the batters box is where the team struggled the most.
Perhaps the inexperience of starting just one senior and five underclassmen for the majority of the season caught up with IU and Coach Shonda Stanton in the end.
Round one of the Big Ten Tournament against 10-seed Penn State saw Stanton go back to that exact same lineup. While there were some flashes of immense potential, there was also a lack of firepower.
In a 4-2 victory over the Nittany Lions on Thursday night, the Hoosiers did what they’ve done well all season: Wreak chaos on the base paths.
After a rough first inning in which Penn State took an early 2-0 lead courtesy of Destiny Weber’s two-run home run, IU came roaring back in front of its home crowd.
Sophomore Grayson Radcliffe started off the bottom of the second inning with a leadoff double that jump-started IU’s small-ball approach. Back-to-back bunts from junior infielders Katie Lacefield and Bella Norton allowed Radcliffe to advance two bases and score the Hoosiers' first run of the game.
In the bottom of the third inning, IU continued to stay true to its game plan as freshman Tete Hart and sophomore Taylor Lambert laid down consecutive bunts to lead off the inning and put runners on the corners. Two pitches later, a perfectly executed double steal plated Hart and advanced Lambert to second base.
Junior Gabbi Jenkins and sophomore Maddie Westmoreland soon got in on the hit parade with run-scoring singles of their own, giving IU a 4-2 lead it wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
On the whole, IU stole four bases and laid down five bunts en route to advancing to the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
“We did a tremendous job of sticking to our identity and being gritty,” Stanton said.
After previously losing to No. 18 Northwestern, 5-0, in a nonconference matchup earlier in the season, the impending second round contest would be a test to see how far both teams had progressed.
Whereas Northwestern showed improvements in all facets from their previous meeting, IU’s free-swinging tendencies proved to be its biggest deficiency.
With Big Ten Freshman of the Year Danielle Williams in the pitching circle for the Wildcats and All-Big Ten Second Team in Trainer for the Hoosiers, a fierce pitching duel was likely to decide who would come out victorious.
The first run of the game didn’t come until the third inning, when Trainer walked a pair of batters and served up a two-out RBI single before escaping the jam. Northwestern scored its second run of the game in the fifth inning, this time with Goodin in the circle, thanks to an RBI single from Nikki Cuchran.
Though Trainer and Goodin only gave up two runs on four hits with three strikeouts, it was Williams who emerged victorious.
When it was all said and done, Williams struck out nine batters while allowing just one hit and one walk in a complete-game shutout of IU.
“What an incredible game," Stanton said. "That was a hard-fought battle, and you have to tip your hat to Northwestern. Williams is something special in the circle there.”
Now, after coming up empty-handed in its quest for an NCAA Tournament bid, IU can only shift its focus to next year.
“When you look at this stadium and what you saw back-to-back days, I really feel Team 45 and now Team 46 have created and changed what people think about Indiana softball," Stanton said.
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