Down to their final three outs, trailing by four and looking for a playoff berth, the IUPUI Jaguars needed something special to stay alive. The chilly forty-degree weather and often powerful wind gusts did not make their comeback effort any easier.
Despite the odds being stacked against them, The IUPUI Softball team would mount a five-run rally, exploiting Robert Morris’ errors, to win in wild fashion while keeping them well alive in the playoff chase. The wild finish to this game was a consistent theme to the Jaguars’ entire season.
While a four-run deficit is challenging for any team to overcome, the Jaguars were well-positioned to mount the comeback. Jaida Speth, starting on deck for the Jags, explained the situation.
“Within the team, we said before we went up to bat that we were just going to fight and win this game,” Speth said. “And, we were in the perfect position to do it. We were at the two, three, four spot in our lineup. And so, it was just [about] remaining focused and just believing in myself and my teammates.”
Up first for the Jags was sophomore standout Kendal Calvert who has got on base in over 38% of her appearances, often by bunting. After fighting off several pitches, Calvert made good contact on a ball sent down the third base line. The third basemen overthrew the ball and allowed Calvert to advance to second.
“That was huge for Kendal to get on and get over to second,” Fifth year Jaida Speth expressed.
Following Calvert was Jaida Speth, who was simply looking to advance Calvert. Speth knew that this upcoming at bat was going to be vital for the win and explained her approach.
“She [the pitcher] just threw hard, but her ball wasn’t spinning too much, so just staying on the ball and extending through it and just really trying to move the runner, but it ended working out much better than I would have thought.”
As she alluded to, Speth continued the rally, hitting the ball into left field and stopping on second, which in turn, scored Calvert. Next, Kayla Frieberg and Rachel Gregory each singled, which scored Speth and put the tying run at first base. At this point, the energy was starting to grow in the Jaguars' dugout and throughout the stands.
After a Robert Morris fielding error, Victoria Sivert, the seven-hole hitter, approached the plate with the bases loaded and an opportunity to do something massive for the Jaguars. And, she delivered. She sent a ball the other way toward right field, which scored both Freiberg and Gregory, to tie the game at six all.
Now, IUPUI had two runners on with no one out and the winning run at second base. Noticing that pitcher Madison Devault was faltering, the Colonials sent in Dana Vatakis, Robert Morris’ best pitcher with a 2.38 ERA and three saves already under her belt, in a desperate attempt to salvage their lead. The move worked out for the Colonials as Vatakis coaxed weak contact. However, a bobble on the throw to third base allowed all runners to reach safely. The Jaguars now looked to pounce on this opportunity.
The Jaguars had the bases loaded with the winning run just sixty feet away. It appeared bleak that Robert Morris could still send this game into extra innings; however, Vatakis continued to induce weak contact from the IUPUI batters’ that allowed for back-to-back plays at the plate.
The bases were still loaded, but the Jags now had two outs. Calvert entered the batter's box for the second time this inning. This time she knew that she could end this game once and for all with another well-hit ball. After taking ball one, Vatakis delivered another pitch, and the ball skipped right past the catcher. Kasie Keyes sprinted in from third base and scored the winning run standing up. The Jags had completed the miracle and won the game in the wackiest of ways, a walk-off wild pitch.
This wild game was a snapshot of what the Jaguars' season has looked like, glorious close wins and stress from day one. The Jaguars began the season with a close 6-5 victory over Power 5 school, Syracuse, in a back-and-forth bout. In their second conference series of the season, IUPUI scored an impressive total of twenty-seven runs across three games even while the temperature hovered around freezing.
After Sunday’s doubleheader, the Jaguars now sit at 9-10, just narrowly in a playoff position. Their run to this point was not short of adversity. Fifth-year graduate student, Jaida Speth, remarks how Sunday’s comeback was a high point for this team that has endured a lot.
“[Sunday] was a really big highlight for us,” Speth said. “Coming back in the bottom of the seventh inning. That's huge! Especially, when you are getting to this point in the season, it’s every run and every single inning matters, and we always talk about how in the Horizon League, everyone is so evenly matched, and every game comes down to literally the last out. And so, that was a lot of fun.”
Nathan Ensley is a photographer and writer for The Campus Citizen, IUPUI's student news publication, focusing on sports and campus. He is a freshman majoring in Informatics.