NORMAL — Illinois State softball coach Melinda Fischer felt the awakening of her offense began last weekend in two wins at Loyola.
That was hard to discern by the first five innings of Friday’s Missouri Valley Conference doubleheader at Marian Kneer Stadium.
Yet when Riley Strandgard ripped a two-run, sixth-inning double to center field, the Redbirds were on their merry way to a 2-1 and 4-2 sweep over Evansville.
“I was definitely feeding off the energy of everybody in the dugout. I could hear them screaming for me,” Strandgard said. “I put a good swing on a good pitch and things worked out.”
Evansville (11-25, 4-9 in the Valley) had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the sixth with a no-doubt home run to left field by Lindsay Renneisen.
Strandgard’s full-count double drove home Alex Caliva and Shannon Felde for a 2-1 ISU edge.
“Riley had a good day,” said Fischer. “I thought we started getting our bats a little more consistent at Loyola. That carried over into certain parts of the first game. Then I thought we really got them going the second game as well.”
ISU pitcher Sarah Finck (8-12) stranded the tying run at third base in the seventh, striking out Mea Adams and inducing a game-ending fielder’s choice grounder from Eryn Gould.
After Finck struck out seven and walked two in the opener, freshman Morgan Day fanned a career-high nine in the nightcap as the Redbirds (16-23, 7-5) won their sixth straight.
Day (7-6) needed 12 pitches to retire the opening batter (Adams) on strikes.
In the third, a wind-blown foul popup eluded Redbird catcher Lauren Prader with the bases loaded. Day then took matters into her own hands by whiffing Renneisen to quash the threat.
“When things go wrong, it would be really easy to feel nervous. But I don’t feel nervous with my teammates out there,” said Day. “I felt really comfortable from the very first inning. That was one of my better games because I was able to go all seven.”
ISU seized a 2-0 lead in the fourth on two-out RBI singles from No. 8 hitter Prader and No. 9 Abby Turczyn.
The margin swelled to 4-0 in the fifth as sacrifice flies from Allison Spence and Alyssa Wiebel chased home Riley Hale and Felde, respectively.
Evansville reached Day for a two-run Gould double in the sixth.
“I thought Sarah and Morgan both pitched great,” Fischer said. “It’s always good to see that this time of year.”
Strandgard was 4-for-5 with a walk on the afternoon.
“Coming toward the halfway point of the (MVC) season, we’re trying to click and string those hits together,” said Strandgard. “We talk about how important it is to get key hits in key situations. We’ve really been focusing on that.”
The series concludes with an 11 a.m. game Saturday.