NORMAL — Shannon Felde has been the best hitter for Illinois State's softball team this season. On Saturday, the senior also did her best to help out the struggling Redbirds in the pitching circle.
"It felt good. It was about getting out there and getting in a groove again," said Felde, who hadn't pitched since March 9. "It was exciting to help my team out."
Felde gave the Redbirds five quality innings, but it wasn't enough.
Missouri State scored four runs in the sixth to put the game away as the Bears completed a Missouri Valley Conference doubleheader sweep with a 6-2 victory at Marian Kneer Stadium.
Kelly Metter's grand slam helped Missouri State to a 9-5 victory in the first game.
ISU lost for the sixth time in the last seven games, falling to 12-26 overall and 6-5 in the Valley. Sunday's finale of the three-game series was cancelled because of an inclement weather forecast.
The Redbirds had 10 hits in the first game and 11 in the second. They became the only team besides No. 5-ranked Alabama with double-digit hits against Missouri State (26-14, 11-5).
However, ISU stranded 18 runners.
"Someone has to step up," said ISU coach Melinda Fischer. "It's not like you're not getting opportunities to or are in situations that you haven't practiced or aren't prepared for. But someone has to step up."
Felde, who leads ISU with a .379 batting average, stepped up at the plate and in the circle in the second game.
Taylor Vanderpool scored on Felde's double to give ISU a 1-0 lead in the second. Felde didn't give up a hit for the first three innings and blanked Missouri State for four innings.
The Bears pushed across two runs in the fifth to take the lead. Felde (1-7) gave up a leadoff double in the sixth before going back to left field.
"To be honest I'm not in pitching shape anymore because I haven't thrown for a while," said Felde, who allowed five hits and four walks while striking out three. "It was just fun getting out there and being out there with the infield because I'm usually not."
Missouri State batted around with Madison Hunsaker's two-run single upping the lead to 6-1. Allison Spence drove in Riley Hale, who had three hits, for ISU's final run in the seventh.
Fischer commended Felde's pitching performance "which lasted about as long as I thought it could." Another start in the circle could be forthcoming for Felde, said the ISU coach.
Missouri State used three pitchers in both games with Bears coach Holly Hesse targeting Hunsaker against Spence in a lefty vs. lefty matchup. Steffany Dickerson (17-6) earned the win in both games, starting the opener and throwing five innings of relief in the second game.
"Illinois State had a lot of at-bats and a lot of long at-bats," said Hesse. "They had the lead-off (hitter) on a lot and we had to grind on the mound today, and our pitchers did that well."
ISU took a 3-2 lead in the opener on Brittni LaFountaine's solo homer in the second. But Missouri State knocked out ISU starter Morgan Day (6-13) in the third when the Bears sent 10 players to the plate and scored five runs.
Weber, a freshman, cleared the bases with her first homer when ISU centerfielder Alyssa Wiebel raced back and reached up only to have the ball deflect off her glove and over the fence.
"You can't catch a break when something like that happens," said Fischer.
The Redbirds closed the gap to 7-5 with two runs in the fifth. Erin Griesbauer relieved Dickerson with the bases loaded and one out to get out of the jam. Griesbauer went the final 2⅔ innings to record her first save before starting the second game and throwing 1⅔ innings.
Felde doesn't think the Redbirds, who started 5-0 in the Valley, are pressing.
"It's just about getting that one hit to get us going. We're right there," she said. "It's just about people stepping up and doing their jobs and getting that hit when it's needed."