With a home sweep of the Southern Illinois University Salukis — a team that had been unbeaten in conference play entering the series — Drake Softball extended its win streak to seven. The Bulldogs are an undefeated 9-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference and are 19-11 overall.
Ace pitcher Nicole Newman has led the conference-leading Bulldogs this season. Newman is glad the team is “grabbing a hold of first in the MVC,” continuing off of last season’s success when Drake had the best regular season record in the conference.
Overall, Newman’s ERA is 2.36 for the season – the fourth best in the conference – showcasing her contribution for the first-place Bulldogs. She also has the second-most wins and the most strikeouts in the conference thus far in 2016.
Newman took the mound for all seven innings in the first game on Saturday, giving up only three hits and one run. Drake’s hitters, contributing seven runs behind five hits and four walks, backed her up on the way to the 7-1 victory.
In the second game of the series on Sunday, Newman threw an even better game, giving up only one hit and no runs.
Megan Sowa was able to continue contributing at the plate as well, recording two RBIs on the weekend. She now has hits in nine of the last 12 games, entering the series on a five-game hitting streak. Sowa is hitting .313 and is confident in her ability to continue at that pace.
“(I’m just) staying confident in the plan,” she said. “Staying relaxed.”
However, it was Taryn Pena who led the way for the Bulldog hitters in the second game of the series. She had two hits in the game, reached base three times and Drake’s first two RBIs of the day. The Bulldogs would go on to win 4-0 as Newman recorded her third shutout of the season.
The third meeting late Sunday afternoon started different than the first two. While SIU struggled to get contact earlier in the series, the Salukis seemed to come out with a renewed vigor.
With Mariah McKinnon starting on the mound, SIU was able to get on base early. Two Salukis singled in the first inning, but McKinnon managed to strand both of them. Another Saluki reached base in the second inning, this time on a double, but was left on base as well.
In the third, SIU recorded another two hits and this time was able to score a runner.
However, Drake didn’t give the Salukis the lead, having scored four runs in the bottom of the second inning. The Bulldogs tacked on one more in the fifth on an RBI single from junior Ashlie Chambers, scoring Taryn Pena.
In the top of the sixth inning with the bases loaded and two outs, Newman relieved McKinnon.
Newman promptly retired the first and only batter she faced in the inning, retaining Drake’s 5-1 lead.
“I had to push through and get this win,” Newman said. “Mariah had a great game, and I wanted to close it out for her.”
The Salukis threatened again in the top of the seventh, and this time succeeded in bringing runners home. Four hits and a pair of Drake errors allowed the Salukis to bring the score to 5-3, with two runners still on base.
With the potential tying run on second base and two outs, Newman struck out her third batter of the inning and 28th of the weekend to secure the win for the Bulldogs.
These wins helped to set the pace for the remainder of the season as the Bulldogs continue making plays from the plate, in the field and on the mound.
“We all had to trust in each other, trust that we can execute,” sophomore Kelsey Wright said about the series sweep.
Drake took on Iowa State University on Tuesday evening at Ron Buel Field. The Bulldogs were excited and prepared for the matchup against their in-state rivals.
“There’s always a little extra push (to win) those games,” Newman said.
Check out timesdelphic.com for a recap of that game.