KSU softball ends series with 8-7 home win

Rachel Jones

A solid hit by junior catcher Jessica Blanton brought the Kent State softball team from a 6-0 deficit in the fourth inning to an 8-7 home victory over Northern Illinois Sunday.

The Flashes chipped away at the score with runs by junior first baseman Shannon Laughlin and senior right fielder Beth Cinadr in the fourth and senior left fielder Holly Finchum in the fifth inning.

After a double play by sophomore pitcher Danielle Abernathy, the Flashes (15-19, 6-2 Mid-American Conference) entered the bottom of the seventh down 7-3.

Karen Linder, Kent State coach, said she was proud of the players for not getting discouraged.

“We were in a difficult spot, but we still had the capability to keep going, especially with the power we had in the lineup that was coming up,” Linder said.

The power began when Laughlin doubled to bring home sophomore center fielder Lauren Grimes and freshman second baseman Abbey Ledford, putting Kent State down just 7-5.

Cinadr went up next but was hit by the pitch. Junior second baseman Sarah Starr came in as the pinch runner.

Northern Illinois decided to change pitchers, but replacement Morgan Bittner threw a wild pitch, allowing junior shortstop Mary Holt to move to first base.

So with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Blanton stepped up to the plate.

The only thing missing was a Hollywood director who would’ve had a conniption if he knew something this intense was happening in real life.

“We live for that moment,” Blanton said. “It’s all about being able to handle yourself under pressure. I love that feeling.”

And the softball gods seemed to love her back, as she sent the ball sailing over Northern Illinois’ centerfielder, sending her teammates home and bringing Kent State the win.

“I don’t know how (Holt) scored from first!” Blanton said with a laugh. “But I felt like I did my job.”

Linder said she had been studying the Huskies’ centerfielder all game and noticed she played more in, bringing the whole outfield up.

“I knew all we needed was a gap shot,” Linder said. “I talk to (Blanton) all the time about making gap shots because she’s not necessarily a home run hitter, but she’s got great power in the gaps. We were fortunate she got that through.”

Blanton came through on the stats sheet, too, earning five RBIs during four at-bats.

After splitting a double-header with Western Michigan on Friday with a 6-8 loss followed by a 5-4 win, it’s only fitting the Flashes topped off their 19-12 loss to the Huskies on Saturday with an 8-7 victory Sunday.

Blanton said the team felt like it needed a shot at redemption in the series finale.

“In the two games on Friday, we didn’t play as well as we should have,” she said. “Yesterday, we didn’t play as well either. Today, we had something to prove.”

To get the team to accomplish that goal, Linder spoke to the players about coming out with confidence and putting together all four phases of the game to end on a high note.

While she said the defense stood out against the Huskies on Sunday, it was the team’s attitude that made her the happiest.

“I’m really proud of our kids because they kept battling throughout the whole thing,” Linder said. “Our energy was really good at the end, so that was important, too. They felt like they could do it.”

And since they did do it, the Flashes are the top team in the MAC East.

But with the other teams in the conference playing just as well, Linder said the team can look forward to more split or at least close weekend series.

“This win was huge because it keeps us right at the top,” Linder said. “Every time you have a weekend series, anyone’s capable of beating anyone. It’s going to be a dog fight.”

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected].