Russiaville — Western’s softball team started out its Mid-Indiana Conference slate by taking a firm step in the right direction with an 8-1 victory over Northwestern Thursday afternoon.
Western pitcher Erika Beeler threw a complete game with 14 strikeouts and Western got a key hit from Kate Johnson to help blow the game open during the five-run bottom of the second to help the Panthers go ahead and stay there.
Western is 6-2 overall, and most importantly, 1-0 in the league.
“Two losses and you’re out in our conference,” Western coach Jim Clouse said. “You just can’t drop a conference game. It’s really important to get out to a good start. 0-1 in the Conference puts so much pressure on you not to lose again. We knew [Thursday] night was important, and it’s not only important for the conference, it’s important in the we came back from two losses in a row this week and ended this week on a positive.”
Western turned the game its way quickly. After failing to score with a play at the plate in the first, the Panthers got their leadoff batter on base in the bottom of the second and went to work. Western scored a run on an error, then a run on a sacrifice bunt by Morgan Grove before Johnson hit a two-run single to push the lead to 4-0. Johnson later scored on an error.
“We threatened in the first inning, then we came out in the second inning, got a couple big hits when we needed them, ran the bases extremely well in that inning, put some pressure on them to make some plays,” Clouse said. “And then a big two-out hit by Kate Johnson drove in two runs. She’s been struggling a little bit and that was a real big confidence booster for her.”
Northwestern struggled that inning with three errors.
“It’s just what we’ve dealt with. We’ve dealt with that one bad inning that kills us and the confidence goes downhill,” NW coach Blake Betzner said. “In the second [on offense] we had a girl on third with no outs and to a team that’s just trying to get ahead and get some confidence, that just sucks it right out of you [when you don’t score]. You could see that carry over defensively.”
Northwestern clawed a run back in the third when Kelcey Kellett scored from third on a double steal with Kendra Gingerich starting the play by drawing a throw to second base. That was as much as Northwestern got.
The Tigers put runners on third three more times only to see rallies stall out.
“We just struck out in key situations,” Betzner said. “We didn’t put the ball in play when we had to, and they did. Every time they had a girl on third, they put the ball in play somewhere.”
Beeler (4-1) had something to do with that.
“Erika Beeler pitched a great game,” said Clouse, who usually uses two pitcher in games. “We’ve been splitting games most of the year and just didn’t feel like, the way Erica was throwing, that we could take her out. She ended up with 14 strikeouts and only gave up four hits, really gave up only one hard hit ball the whole game. Fourteen strikeouts and only two walks, we’ll take that every day.”
The Tiger that scored in the third inning reached base on a dropped third strike. Beeler fanned at least one batter each inning and struck out four in the final frame (with the leadoff batter reaching safely on a dropped third strike).
“When you get down against a team that’s used to winning, it’s hard to get back,” Betzner said. “Western just knows how to win. Their pitcher kept getting stronger and stronger throughout the game.”
Western added an insurance run in the fifth when Jenna Wiechmann doubled, then scored on Mady Anderson’s single. And Western plated two in the sixth as Grove and Evie Glover scored on a play that had a past ball and an error. Wiechmann and Anderson each had two hits in the game.
Maddie Heflin suffered the loss for Northwestern (3-4, 0-1 MIC). She fanned four batters. At the plate she went 2 for 3. Jenna Jordan doubled.
“They need to understand that you don’t get two chances to play Western,” Betzner said. “This was a big game, this was a conference game and we didn’t play up to where we think we should be at.”