Nicole Fisher’s leadoff homer on the first pitch of the game from Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of the year Becca Changstrom was all the offense Northern Iowa would need against Creighton in a Valley tournament semifinal Friday at the CU Sports Complex.
Nicole’s twin sister, Jamie, made sure of it as she scattered four hits while striking out 12 to push the Panthers into Saturday’s championship game with a 1-0 win over Creighton.
The Bluejays, who are not expected to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, ended their season at 29-18 after capturing the Valley regular-season title last weekend.
Many fans had not quite settled into their seats when Nicole Fisher struck the deciding blow.
“I just wanted to get on her first pitch because I knew she had that good rise ball, so I was going to (swing at) the first good ball I got,” Fisher said.
Changstrom, who fell to 22-9, said she wasn’t surprised with Fisher’s aggressiveness on the first pitch of the game.
“It just shows you how one pitch can affect the whole game,” Changstrom said.
Creighton had few opportunities against Jamie Fisher, and the Bluejays failed to capitalize when those chances came.
Northern Iowa’s Micalla Rettinger made a run-saving play in the second inning, robbing CU’s Blake Ringle with a diving catch in center field with two outs to strand Blair Lowe at second base.
The Bluejays wasted a big chance in the third after a leadoff walk by Sammy Snygg and back-to-back singles by Liz Dike and Ellen Homan loaded the bases with no outs.
But Fisher, last season’s Valley pitcher of the year, was able to coax a sharp grounder from Amy Baker, the all-time Valley home run and RBI leader. Third baseman Haley Kriener cut Snygg down at the plate.
Following a called third strike to Alexis Cantu for the second out of the inning, Fisher forced Bri Lingl into another grounder resulting in the final out of the inning.
Creighton coach Brent Vigness said his team has thrived on that type of stage all year.
“We had the meat of the lineup coming to the plate in that situation,” Vigness said. “All year long, we’ve had people step up and deliver in that situation.
“You’ve got to give UNI’s defense credit. They stepped up and made some big plays and got some big outs.”
Meanwhile, Changstrom settled in following the first pitch and retired the next 12 batters before Kristin Lock started a Panther threat with a leadoff double in the fifth inning.
But Changstrom was able to get Kriener and Samantha Olson to pop up to left before fanning Samantha Reimer to end the UNI rally.
Changstrom finished with seven strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter.
Jamie Fisher again got the best of Baker in the fifth after Homan got on base with a two-out single.
Baker got just under a Fisher offering and lifted a long fly ball to right that was pulled down by Lock for the third out.
Northern Iowa (25-24) ........................... 100 000 0—1 4 0
Creighton (29-18) ........................... 000 000 0—0 4 0
W: J. Fisher, 20-13. L: Changstrom, 22-9. 2B: UNI, K. Lock (7). HR: UNI, N. Fisher (8).
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