After the series opener was postponed due to lightning in the area, Illinois State University softball brought the thunder to sweep the Loyola Ramblers at Marian Kneer Stadium.
Prior to the umpires moving Saturday’s game to Sunday, the Ramblers held a 1-0 lead. Allyson Ivey drew a leadoff walk and advanced to third on a throwing error, which set her up for the game’s opening run.
The Redbirds did not take long to get settled in once the game resumed. Facing an 0-2 count and one out, Morgan Day struck out the batter on the first pitch, and Brittni LaFountaine threw out the runner trying to steal second for the third out.
Mack Leonard gave ISU some offense in the bottom of the third with a home run to right-center field to tie the game. A couple of batters later, Dayna Kennedy drove Kaili Chval in for the go-ahead run off a sac fly.
Loyola quickly responded in the following inning with a leadoff home run to tie the game at two. The Ramblers threatened with another run, but Day got ISU out of the inning with a strikeout.
ISU’s batters expanded their lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kennedy drove in Leonard with a double into left field.
The ensuing batter doubled to left-center to advance Kennedy to third, but she came around to score off of a throwing error. The Redbirds added a third run and took a 5-2 lead heading into the sixth.
Despite back-to-back singles, the Ramblers could not do anything to cut into the lead with Day still on the mound. The senior pitcher escaped the jam with her 11th strikeout of the game.
In the bottom of the frame, Leonard launched her second homer of the game to make it 7-2 ISU. The Redbirds loaded the bases but couldn’t bring anyone home.
The Ramblers cut the lead to three with a two-run shot, but Reili Gardner came up with a diving catch in center field to give ISU the 7-4 victory.
Day improved to 9-3 in the circle with the win. The senior allowed six hits and three earned runs in seven innings pitched and struck out 13 batters.
Illinois State found itself in familiar territory as the Ramblers jumped out to the early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Sydney Barnett drove in the opening run with an infield single. Despite having runners on first and second in the bottom of the first, the Redbirds came up empty handed.
Loyola increased their lead in the fourth. Teagan Sopczak drove in a run with a single to right field with the bases loaded. After a mound visit, Mack Leonard gave up a double to the ensuing batter to give the Ramblers a four-run lead. Day came in for relief to get ISU out of the jam and stranded a pair of baserunners.
Rebecca Moffett reached first base on a fielder’s choice and stole second in the bottom of the frame, but the Redbirds come up empty.
Day followed back-to-back strikeouts to start the fifth with a pair of errors. Despite putting the Ramblers in a scoring position, she rebounded with another strikeout to end the frame. The senior followed that up with two straight Ks in the sixth. After conceding a triple, Day left her on base as she struck out the next batter.
Through 3.2 innings pitched, Day allowed one hit and fanned seven of the 14 batters. After a strong relief effort from the veteran, ISU was down to their last hope as they came up to bat in the bottom of the seventh trailing 4-0.
Head coach Melinda Fischer said the senior’s performance was what the team needed to turn things around when they needed to.
“I thought Morgan [Day] was better today than what she started yesterday,” Fischer said. “If you look at Morgan as a freshman and now as a senior, she has made tremendous strides, especially in her self-confidence. With a rise-ball pitcher, the wind wasn’t in our favor, but she has proven that she can come back and get us back on track.”
Chloe Jefferson sparked the offense with a leadoff double. Then Madi Bylak reached on a fielder’s choice to put the Redbirds in scoring position. Pinch-hitter Andrea Coursey also got on base thanks to an error to load them up.
Loyola intentionally walked Leonard to bring in ISU’s first run. On the next at bat, Chval singled up the left side to bring in another run, cutting the margin to two runs. Emme Olson smacked a double into center field to tie the game at four. Kennedy capped off the comeback with a single up the middle.
The Redbirds came from behind to beat the Ramblers 5-4 as every batter in the inning reached base in addition to not giving up a single out. After no hits in the first six innings, the Redbird bats came alive in the seventh: five hits in the span of seven batters.
Fischer said the depth from their dugout contributed to their seventh inning spark.
“It’s kind of happened all season. Every game, somebody different seems to step up and do something exciting,” Fischer said. “The top of our lineup has been the most consistent all year. I think when that happens, it energizes the team and helps themselves play for each other.”
Illinois State returns to the field at 2 p.m. Friday for the first of a three-game series between the Drake Bulldogs in Des Moines, Iowa.