FARGO, N.D. - Fighting Leatherneck softball split with the Bison of North Dakota State in day one of the series, falling 3-0 in the opener before bouncing back in the nightcap with a 3-1 victory. Western Illinois is now 21-16 overall and 11-3 in Summit League play, while NDSU is 25-13 and 9-2 in conference play.
Game #1 - 2 p.m.
North Dakota State 3, Western Illinois 0
North Dakota State wasted little time putting runs up on the board, scoring two in the bottom of the first inning. A walk and fielder's choice put the first two on for the Bison and a single up the middle, the only hit of the inning, by Amanda Grable allowed both to score.
The Western Illinois bats were silenced until the top of the fourth inning when Jamie Goss hit a leadoff single to center. But it would not produce a rally as a pop out and two strike outs left her stranded at first.
The Bison picked up an insurance run in the bottom half of the inning after a walk, wild pitch and an error plated the third unearned run of the game on zero hits.
In the top of the fifth, designated hitter Hailey Bickford led off with the second Leatherneck hit of the ballgame and was moved into scoring position by an Emma Jarrell sacrifice bunt before two groundouts put the inning in the books.
The Leathernecks picked up their third leadoff single in as many innings in the top of the sixth when KC Dunne smacked one through the left side. She swiped second with two outs, bringing her tally to 14 on the season, before a strike out ended the threat.
Western Illinois put Megan Kelly at first with a leadoff walk in the seventh, but a fielder's choice and a double play made the 3-0 loss final.
Bison starting pitcher Krista Menke (16-6) picked up the win in the circle holding the Leathernecks to three hits in her seven innings of work. Kelsey Michelini was tagged with the loss dropping to 11-6 on the year.
Dunne, Goss and Bickford had one hit apiece in the contest.
Game #2 - 4 p.m.
Western Illinois 3, North Dakota State 0
Starting pitcher Hailey Bickford went the distance in the circle pitching a full seven innings and had the only Leatherneck hit in Western Illinois' 3-1 game two win over North Dakota State.
After trading zeros with the Bison in the first and second innings of play, Bickford started the third off with a single to left. She moved up a bag on an Emma Jarrell sacrifice bunt and scored from second on an errant throw to first on the next play to stake the early 1-0 advantage.
The Leathernecks were back on the basepaths in the fourth, when Jamie Goss walked and Lia Romeo reached on a Bison fielding error, however the scoring effort was spoiled by a pair of fly outs and a sharp line out to center off the bat of Bickford.
In the bottom half of the inning, North Dakota State evened the score 1-1 with a two-out rally. A walk, two consecutive singles and an error allowed the Bison to plate a run, smudging Bickford's shutout bid in the circle.
However, Western Illinois wasted no time regaining the advantage in the top of the fifth. Jarrell drew a walk to start the inning and advanced to second on a passed ball. Briana Williams followed with a walk and a Sammy Marshall sacrifice bunt moved the Leathernecks to second and third for KC Dunne who reached on an error scoring one. Goss laid down a perfect squeeze on the next play to plate Williams for the only RBI of the doubleheader giving the game its final margin of 3-1.
Bickford is now 8-7 on the season, while Whitney Johnson falls to 9-7 overall despite holding the Leathernecks to one hit.
Williams drew two walks and stole two bases for Western Illinois in the nightcap, Jarrell was 0-for-1 with a walk and two sacrifice bunts, Bickford had the lone hit and Goss had the only RBI of the day.
The rubber match of the series will begin on Saturday (April 7) at 12 p.m. in Fargo, N.D. With a win, the Leathernecks will be tied for first in the Summit League standings.