Softball takes third in Horizon League championship

UIC softball: Courtney Heeley

Courtney Heeley hit an RBI double. Photo: Timothy Nguyen/UIC News

The softball team’s season ended Friday when UIC suffered a 5-4 (8) loss to Valparaiso in the Horizon League Championship.

With the game tied at 3 through seven innings, the Flames went into the eighth and took the 4-3 lead off a RBI double from Courtney Heeley, but the Crusaders came away with the win in the bottom of the inning after a walk-off two-run single.

UIC finished the season 16-28, won eight of its 18 conference games and went 2-2 in the Horizon League tournament.

“We are proud of our team for the effort they gave throughout the entire tournament,” head coach Michelle Venturella said.

Shortstop Natalie Hernandez and pitcher Bridget Boyle were named to the All-Tournament Team, while Heeley earned the Defensive Player Award and Hernandez claimed the Batting Champion Award in the Horizon League Championship.

For the second consecutive game, Hernandez led off with a solo home run for her third of the tournament and 12th of the season, a career high.

Paige Peterson followed Hernandez in the first inning with her first-of-three singles of the game. Valparaiso’s Kaitlyn Ranieri answered Hernandez’s homer with one of her own in the bottom of the first to tie the game.

The Crusaders went ahead 2-1 in the third after Ranieri walked, advanced to second on a sac bunt and came around to score on a single by Tarah McShane.

In the fifth, UIC reclaimed its lead after Heeley reached on a Valpo error and moved to second on a single by Peterson. With two outs, Jacki Fletcher hit her second triple of the season to center to plate both runners. Valparaiso tied it again in the bottom of the inning after putting two runners on with no outs and allowing one to score.

Both teams were scoreless through the sixth and seventh to take the game to extra innings.

Erica Hampton singled with one out in the eighth before Eleni Polites came in to pinch run and steal second. Heeley stepped to the plate with two outs and hit her 10th double of the season to left center, scoring Polites to go up 4-3.

With the Flames looking to hold the lead, the Crusaders went into the bottom of the frame and led off with back-to-back singles. Two consecutive outs followed, but Amanda Wisniewski singled to load the bases before McShane singled to left to bring in two for the win.

Boyle started her second game of the tournament and went 4.0 innings with one strikeout and three earned runs before Alice Fitzpatrick came in to finish the game, with 3.2 innings pitched to strike out three batters.

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