Team now atop IIAC with 4-0 mark
Riding a wave a solid pitching and timely hitting, the Buena Vista University softball team swept a pair of conference games here Sunday over Loras College.
BVU righthander Sarah Dirkx scattered nine hits in game one and didn't walk a batter as the Beavers edged the Duhawks 5-4 in game one.
Sophomore pitcher Brandi Sykora followed suit in game two, firing a three-hitter with plenty of support from the offense in a 10-2 win in game two in five innings.
"That was the first doubleheader this year where we've had outstanding pitching performances back to back," BVU coach Marge Willadsen said. "As a team, we're gaining more confidence and we are starting to believe."
With the win, BVU improved to 4-0 in conference play and to 9-7 overall. Loras came into the game at 4-0 in IIAC play, having swept Cornell and Dubuque. As of Monday afternoon, BVU was the only Iowa Conference team undefeated in league play.
"We still have a long way to go," Willadsen added. "Loras is a good team, but I still feel Central and Wartburg are the teams to beat.
"We have Coe here Tuesday and that's going to be a tougher test than Loras," she added.
In game one, the Beavers won in walk-off style after Trish Porter scored from second on a throwing error by Loras pitcher Sara Neverman.
Porter led off the bottom of the seventh with a clutch hit, a liner to left over the third baseman's head. Shortstop Amanda Armstrong made a textbook sacrifice bunt to get Porter to second.
BVU's freshman centerfielder Tracy Benge layed another bunt down, but Loras' Neverman hurried the throw to first, which took a tough hop and got past Duhawk first baseman Stacy Bahl. Porter never stopped running and easily scored the gamewinner.
"We executed well all day, especially in that seventh inning," Willadsen said. "Most of all I was pleased with Sarah's pitching and our timely hitting."
Dirkx, a junior out of Carroll, started the season slowly but has turned things around. Throwing hard and hitting her spots, she struck out seven and didn't walk a Loras hitter.
The righthander was also aided by two BVU runs in the bottom of the first. Benge, who was 6 for 8 in the two games, led off with a bunt single. Sykora singled, and both runners advanced a base on a passed ball.
Benge scored from third on a groundout by catcher Ashley Partlow, then BVU senior Brooke Bousum hit an RBI double to the gap in leftcenter.
Loras added a single run in the second, but BVU scored once in the third for a 3-1 lead. The Duhawks tied it at three in the top of the sixth on a two-run shot to center by designated player Jamie Wendt.
BV took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth when Partlow reached on an error and later scored on a sacrifice fly by freshman second baseman Kelsey Ripperberger.
Loras added a run in the top of the seventh and threatened to take the lead. With a runner on second and one out, Bahl lined out to Armstrong at short, then a Loras baserunner was doubled up at second.
Loras outhit BVU 9-8 in game one, but BVU committed three errors.
"We still made some mistakes in the field," Willadsen said. "There is room for improvement but we are starting to believe we'll be in a conference race this season."
In game one, Benge went 3 for 4 with two runs scored, while Sykora was 2 for 3 with an RBI. BVU hitters struck out just three times.
In game two, meanwhile, Sykora struggled in the first inning, allowing two Loras runs for an early 2-0 lead. Both runs were unearned.
The Beavers came through with a big inning in the second, scoring eight times against Loras' No. 2 pitcher, Regan Keeney.
The big blow was a three-run blast by Partlow. But by then, BVU had gotten RBI-singles from Armstrong and Benge.
The Beavers added to the lead in the fourth when Sykora homered to center. In the fifth, BVU closed the game out in the fifth via the ten run rule, scoring a single run on an RBI-single by Ripperberger.
Sykora yielded just one hit after the first inning, striking out five in five innings and not walking a batter. Dirkx and Sykora both went the distance and neither righthander walked a batter.
Willadsen expected her two ace pitchers to perform well prior to this season. She was more concerned about her team's ability to score runs.
"I was most pleased with our offense in both games (Sunday)," she said. "We had some key hits in the first game and really got going in the second.
"On the other hand, Loras doesn't really have a No. 2 starter, so we know we'll get better pitching from other conference teams," she said.
*On Saturday, BVU split a pair of games at Nebraska Wesleyan, losing game one 2-1 and winning the nightcap 5-3.
Dirkx was the tough-luck loser in game one, allowing just seven hits and giving up an unearned run in the bottom of the seventh for the game winner.
In game two Sykora got the win, tossing a six-hitter and driving in a run at the plate.
*BVU is at home Tuesday for a doubleheader against Coe, which is 2-2 in conference play but 19-7 overall. They'll play another conference doubleheader Saturday at Luther.