CMU softball falls to NIU in home opener

Junior pitcher Grace Lehto winds up during game one of the MAC softball tournament against Ohio on Thursday, May 11 in Oxford, Ohio.

In the bottom of the sixth, Central Michigan softball faced a 4-0 deficit to Northern Illinois. After loading the bases, junior shortstop Maddie Springer came to the plate with two outs, looking to score CMU’s first run of the day. 

However, Springer couldn’t capitalize as she flew out to right field to leave three runners stranded to keep NIU out in front. 

Central Michigan struggled to get anything going in the innings that followed, leading to a shutout victory for the Huskies, 4-0. 

CMU moves to 3-18 overall and 0-1 in Mid-American Conference play. 

The Chippewas struggled at the plate to begin the matchup as NIU pitcher Danielle Stewart held them hitless through two innings with three strikeouts.

The struggles on offense continued throughout the day as CMU ended the day with only five hits in the matchup. Stewart shut the Chippewas down, pitching all seven innings allowing no runs on five hits in the win. 

“I think from an approach standpoint, I think we got her to throw a lot of pitches,” head coach McCall Salmon said. “(The) balls that we hit, we barreled up, unfortunately, some of them were just right at them. And I think going into tomorrow, we have a confident and positive mindset that we just got to win the series. We're gonna see her again and so when we see her again, let’s beat her once.” 

The Huskies threatened in the top of the fourth, having two runners in scoring position with only one out. However, senior pitcher Grace Lehto came up big in the circle, causing back-to-back outs and leaving NIU scoreless. 

After four scoreless innings, the Huskies broke the tie with a sacrifice fly by Ellis Erickson to score the first run of the matchup. 

NIU added three more runs in the top of the sixth to give the Chippewas the four-run advantage as CMU had two more opportunities at the plate. 

In the bottom of the sixth, the Chippewas found some momentum after back-to-back base hits from freshman catcher Carly Sleeman and senior right fielder Michaleigh Vallimont. CMU couldn’t capitalize on the quick hits as it was held scoreless in the inning. 

The Chippewas couldn’t get anything going in the bottom of the seventh, except for a single from senior center fielder Abbey Tolmie. The hit marked 21-straight games where Tolmie has reached base. 

In her first start this season at Margo Jonker Stadium, Lehto pitched five innings, letting up three runs on seven hits and two walks. 

“Grace (Lehto) has struggled a little bit this offseason, and so it was nice to kind of see her settle in and be Grace again,” Salmon said. “NIU’s gonna score a lot of runs, so our inability to score runs didn't help her but you know, there was some bright spots for her.” 

The Chippewas look to bounce back as they will finish the three-game series against NIU on Saturday with a double header starting at 1 p.m. 

“The message to the team is to win the day,” Salmon said. “We have the opportunity to win the series still ahead of us, so let's get out and attack from out one and inning one, game one tomorrow… MAC play is a dogfight, and we're up for the challenge.”