Ann Arbor, Mich.-- Even though the semifinal action was washed out on Friday the 13th, Saturday's first game provided enough bizarre occurrences to satisfy any thriller fan. In an eight inning affair, the Iowa Hawkeyes knocked second-seeded Northwestern out of the 2005 Big Ten Tournament by the score of 2-1.
The Wildcats opened up the game by getting a pair of baserunners on, as they would h of the game. All-Conference first team shortstop Stephanie Churchwell hit a hard grounder past her diving counterpart Stacey May to lead off the game. After first team outfielder Erin Mobley fouled off two bunt attempts and struck out, Big Ten Player of the Year Garland Cooper hit a high fly to the leftfield warning track. The ball fell right into the glove of awaiting leftfielder Jenna Spratt, but bounced out, allowing the runners to move up. Birocci got Dotson to strikeout following two changeups, and Kristen Amegin grounded to May to end the threat.
In the second, the Wildcats again put two on via unusual circumstances. After unanimous first team All-Big Ten centerfielder Mindy Heidgerken made a running basket catch to retire the leadoff batter Sheila McCorkle, Kelly Odell hit a hard grounder to third, Abby Ruff fielded it cleanly, but her throw pulled first baseman Stephanie Ackerson off the bag.
The next batter Darcy Sengewald hit a hard ball back to Birocci who fumbled it, but was able to recover in time to throw out the batter at first. Odell advanced to second.
Leftfielder Katie Logan was up next for Northwestern. She hit a hard grounder to May deep in the hole. May fielded the ball and faked a throw to first, which drew Odell far off the second base bag. May forced her back to second and tossed it to second baseman Summer Downs. The ball beat the runner, but Odell dove around Downs' tag to get back to second safely.
Again Birocci eliminated the threat, inducing a ground ball back to the circle.
In the bottom of the second, the hilarity ensued. Heidgerken lifted a bloop single into short rightfield. Birocci followed by pushing a bunt over the head of Canney. Cooper was charging towards the cicrle from her first base position, but the ball bounced off her glove, allowing Birocci to reach first and Heidgerken to advance.
Ali Arnold, in the designated player spot this game, faked a bunt as Heidgerken attempted to steal third. Despite a throw from Dotson that drifted away from the base, Sengewald dove back towards shortstop, and the ball arrived in her glove just before Heidgerken arrived at the base. Birrocci advanced, but Heidgerken getting caught stealing was the second out of the inning, and Arnold struckout to end the inning.
Amegin led off the top of the fourth for Northwestern with a walk and was replaced for pinch runner Ashley Crane. McCorkle followed with a bunt down the third base line. Ruff dove to her right to cut it off, and threw to first from her backside. On the throw to first, Crane, seeing no one was covering third, won a footrace with May to the bag, and beat Ackerson's throw. On the throw to third, McCorkle took second with no Iowa defenders around the base.
With no outs and two runners in scoring position, Birocci again eliminated the `Cats' scoring opportunity by striking out Odell. The next batter, Sengewald popped up a ball to the edge of the grass and Downs raced back to make a backhanded catch and keep the runners in place. Logan finished the inning by grounding out to Ruff at third.
In the top of the fifth, Churchwell led off the inning with her second hard grounder up the middle of the game. After a fly out by Mobley, Churchwell stole second with Cooper up to bat. The Player of the Year delivered, hitting a short flyball down the line in left. Spratt gave chase and as she was closing in the ball bounced off her glove and then went into foul territory. Churchwell scored and Cooper motored into third, giving the `Cats a 1-0 lead. Birocci closed the side with a strikeout and ground out, but the damage was done.
In the bottom of the sixth, May led off with a single up the middle and Downs followed with a sacrifice bunt down the third baseline. Murray was up next and drew a walk with the fourth ball being a wildpitch, which allowed May to advance to third. Ruff went in to pinch run for Murray and first team All-Conference pitcher Courtnay Foster entered the game as well. Catcher Emily Nichols was next up for the Hawks and with two strikes hit a slow bouncer to Cooper at first, the runner raced past Cooper who looked home, but by the time Cooper had assessed the situation, May had slide into home to tie the game at one.
In the top of the seventh Churchwell collected her third hit of the day, by driving one through the left side. Mobley sacrificed her over for the second out of the inning. The Hawkeyes elected to put Cooper on with the intentional walk. The move worked as Dotson popped up to May to end the inning.
Churchwell finished the game going three for four with a run scored. Four other Wildcats collected a hit, but Chrchwell was the only Cat with multiple hits.
After Amegin reached on a hard shot to center and moved to second on an error by Heidgerken, Iowa got the next three out to keep the score even at one.
In the bottom of the eighth, May reached on a hard shot to left. Downs followed by advancing the runner with a sacrifice bunt. Up next, Murray popped up down the line in rightfield and with Cooper and Odell giving chase, the ball dropped in, allowing May to advance to third.
May went two for four, scoring both of the teams' runs, and three other Hawkeyes recorded hits. The RBI were credited to Nichols and Heidgerken.
The Wildcats recorded seven hits and reached base on three errors and three walks, however, Northwestern left 10 runners on.
The Wildcats walked Nichols to load the bags for Heidgerken. After collecting two strikes, Heidgerken nubbed the ball down the third base line and May raced in ahead of the throw to beat the force and send Iowa into the tournament finals.
No. 3 Iowa moves into the tournament finals to face the winner of the No. 1 Michigan and No. 5 Wisconsin game. The Wolverines and Badgers will face off at approximately 11:45 a.m. ET. The finals will begin 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Michigan-Wisconsin semifinal game.
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