Rally time

Softball avoids weekend sweep with comeback victory over Omaha.

Zach Martin

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Small ball led to some big opportunities Sunday for the Western Illinois softball team.

Down 4-0 after 2.5 innings, a bunt led to the biggest scoring output of the season.

Three runs in the bottom of the second and eight in the third gave the Leathernecks more than enough breathing room to prevail 14-8 over the Omaha Mavericks, avoiding the sweep at Mary Ellen McKee Stadium.

“This was an exciting one,” said head coach Holly Van Vlymen. “We really talked about continuing to make great adjustments and they let their swings happen, and they just played really loose. That’s when we play our best.”

Brooke Stulga received the nod in the circle for just the fourth time all season. Her start didn’t last longer than 10 minutes.

Leadoff hitter Nicole Warren laced a triple and Sydney Hames brought her, and herself, home with a two-run blast to left field to put the Mavericks up 2-0.

Omaha (23-22, 9-2 Summit League) scored two more in their half of the second to double its lead.

When Western (11-28, 4-5) came up to bat, things began to change.

The rally started with a near-perfect bunt by Taylor Messer on a 1-1 count that scored Nina Maggio. Karissa Kouchis smacked a 2-run double on the first pitch she saw from Omaha starter Laura Roecker to trim the deficit to 4-3.

Another run was tacked on by the Mavs to make it 5-3, but as the Leathernecks proved just an inning ago, their hitters were far from done.

Freshman Hailey Duwa came up with the bases loaded and had a little luck on her side as her hit went under the legs of second baseman Tara Trede, and two runs scored to tie the game 5-5.

Then things got out of hand.

Abbie Clanton came in to relieve Roecker and on the very first pitch she threw, it was deemed an illegal pitch, and Kacyee Hart scored to give Western its first lead of the game.

Holly Hoelting had an RBI double, Kelsey Marlow had a three-run triple and Aly Compton put the finishing touches on with an RBI base hit to give Western a commanding 11-5 lead.

Warren and Hoelting traded homeruns in the fourth inning, but Hoelting’s was a two-run shot that just barely got over the center field fence.

Western would add one more run in its half of the sixth inning — a Tierney Bottino RBI single. Omaha put together a rally with a run in the top of the seventh, but Emily Ira shut the door with back-to-back strikeouts.

Hart picked up her third win of the season in three innings of work.

Western now faces its most daunting task yet — a three-game set against the top team in the conference, North Dakota State, in Fargo, North Dakota starting Friday.