RedHawks sweep the day; head to regional finals
By MIKE SMITH
EVANSTON, ILL -- Holly Blaska keyed a rejuvenated offense, and Brianna Pratt tossed back-to-back shutouts Saturday as the Miami RedHawks (39-19) fought their way into Sunday's NCAA Softball regional final with a pair of victories at Sharon J. Drysdale Field. It will be the softball program's first appearance in a regional final.
Faced with elimination, MU knocked off Eastern Illinois (34-21) 4-0 in the first game and and then knocked out No. 22 Kentucky (33-22-1) with a 9-0 five-inning, run-rule win in game two. The RedHawks now move on to face host Northwestern at 4 p.m. Sunday.
It was Kentucky who . . .
. . . sent MU to the elimination bracket with a 9-1 six-inning run-rule decision in Friday's regional opener. However, the game was much closer through four innings. Their second meeting started similarly, with Miami taking an early 1-0 lead. However, MU turned the tables after that.
Blaska who had homered in the first game against EIU, hit another round-tripper in the first inning against Kentucky. She then blasted a grand slam to cap Miami's five-run second inning against the Wildcats. Another fourth inning run gave the RedHawks a 7-0 lead, leaving them tantalizingly close to a run-rule decision.
They only needed one, but Chloe Parks provided two runs in the fifth inning with an opposite field homer to left. In addition to finishing off the Wildcats, it finished the day for pitcher Brianna Pratt. She threw all but one third of an inning in three games over two days, so saving her a couple more innings of work was icing on the cake for a happy MU squad.
Kentucky had outhit the RedHawks 11-2 and blasted four home runs in their first encounter. Pratt (32-10) limited the 'Cats to three hits, and it was Miami playing long ball in Saturday's meeting.
Earlier in the day, Pratt scattered eight hits in a 4-0 shutout of Eastern Illinois. Only one of those went for extra bases and the Panthers were limited to two walks. Pratt, who struck out eight, was able to work out of several jams as EIU eventually stranded 10 runners.
Offensively, Eight different Miami batters banged out a total of 10 hits while leaving six runners on the basepaths against Eastern Illinois. Blaska and Maddi Banks had two hits. Panther pitching did not walk a batter.
Kentucky, on the other hand, issued five walks. That fanned the flames as Miami's offense mixed quantity (7 hits) with quality (2 doubles, 3 homers -- one a grand slam). Blaska and Parks accounted for eight of MU's nine RBIs.
Miami's offensive production for the entire day totaled 13 runs, 17 hits, 4 home runs, 2 doubles and 1 triple.
AT A GLANCE . . .
MIAMI 4, EASTERN ILLINOIS 0
~~ Batting second, Blaska homered to left center to give the RedHawks an early 1-0 lead.
~~ The Panthers got two on with one out in the third, but two flyouts ended the threat.
~~ EIU again got the leadoff batter on , this time with a chopper over third. That runner moved up on a sacrifice bunt and reached third on a ground out. However, the inning ended with a grounder back to Pratt.
~~ Panther 3B Kendall Grover singled to center with one out and stole second. She reached third on a ground out. The potential tying run was stranded there when Maddi Banks made a diving catch of Lindy Milkowski's liner to left center.
~~ Miami's offense came alive in the bottom half. Parks started the rally with a single to right and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. She scored easily on a triple to center by Banks, who came home on Cummins' line single to right.
~~ Eastern Illinois changed pitchers, bringing in Rachel Kaufman for Prichard. She, however, was greeted with a Blaska single down the right field line. That moved Cummins to third, and she came home on flyout to right by Spaid, giving Miami a 4-0 edge.
~~ EIU opened the sixth with a bouncing single up the middle, but the next three went down in order -- two on strikeouts.
~~ The Panthers had one more rally left. With one-out in the seventh, EIU loaded the bases with three straight singles. That, however, is where they finished as Spaid turned a grounder to third into a game-ending double play.
MIAMI 9, KENTUCKY 0 (5 innings)
~~ Pratt yielded a leadoff single and one-out walk, but got out of the opening frame with a double play on Sullivan's lineout to second. Ebbs was doubled off first on the play.
~~ As she had in the day's first game, Blaska homered in the first inning.
~~ Miami's big inning came in the second when it scored five runs on three hits and two walks. Kobayashi started things with a single. After a flyout, Parks laced an RBI double to left center. Barlow and Banks walked to load the bases. Kentucky got the second out on a fly ball to center. It was not deep enough to score a runner, but Blaska followed with her third homer of the day to clear the bases.
~~ Pratt allowed just one UK hit over the next two innings. Miami then added one more run in the fourth to take a 7-0 lead. Kentucky opened the door with an error on Parks' grounder to second. She moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a Banks triple to left center. After a strikeout, two more walks loaded the bases, but EIU limited damage to one run with an inning-ending strikeout.
~~ Kentucky got a leadoff single in the fifth, but after two outs, that runner was cut down trying to steal.
~~ Kobayashi opened the fifth with a walk. One out later, Parks ended game with a two-run homer to left field.
Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.