Softball continues to surge

No. 10 Southern Indiana (31-7) didn’t allow a run in its doubleheader sweep against Bellarmine (15-23) at the USI Softball Field  Tuesday.

Both starting pitchers, Courtney Atkisson (10-4) and Jennifer Leonhardt (17-1) pitched complete game shutouts. By winning the first game, Atkisson joined Leonhardt with double digit wins.

Game one remained scoreless until second basewoman, Claire Johnson, broke through the Bellarmine defense and starting pitcher, Sabrina Fussenegger, in the fifth inning with an RBI single.

Screaming Eagles shortstop, Lexi Reese, added an RBI single of her own with the next at bat to put USI up 2-0 for good.

The scoring began sooner than the fifth inning in game two. With third basewoman, Mena Fulton, on second, freshman left fielder, Allison Schubert, homered to left field for her second of the season.

USI added the rest of their runs in the third. Catcher, Haley Hodges, added a home run of her own and extended her home run and RBI records by going yard, and freshman pinch hitter, Bailey Slivka, added her first two RBIs with a single up the middle.

Slivka entered the game for center fielder, Olivia Clark-Kittleson, after USI loaded the bases with two outs.

“I was just trying to stay calm and relaxed. The more pressure you feel, the more nervous you are,” Slivka said. “I just wanted to do everything I could for my team and try to produce some runs.”

Slivka said she was excited to score her first RBIs and happy that her teammates were there to support her in the moment.

Head coach Sue Kunkle said she knew what she was doing by subbing in Slivka for Clark-Kittleson even though prior to the game Slivka was batting .071 (1-for-14).

“She’s an outstanding hitter, and she hasn’t gotten to show her real self yet,” Kunkle said. “She’s able to handle failure, and I knew she could handle it. We were up and whether she failed or not, I knew she could handle it and I wanted to give her the opportunity. Success or failure, she was going to be ok.”

Kunkle said Slivka is a strong player that takes the ball consistently in practice and that’s how she knew putting her in the situation would pay off.

She said this was an important series to take against a usually difficult opponent that will be even tougher to play against once they’re fully healthy again.   

“This doubleheader was a must for us. It wasn’t an option for us to lose a game, but to have two shutouts was awesome,” Kunkle said. “We played well together even though we didn’t have our usual 15 hits. I think people expect that from us, but it isn’t realistic.”

After winning game two against a team from her hometown, Louisville, Leonhardt followed up her no hitter Sunday by picking up her ninth complete game shutout and lowering her ERA to 1.06.

Leonhardt said it’s a team effort and for her to be so dominate requires help from the defense.

During the second inning Leonhardt loaded the bases, but Hodges was able to catch a ball fouled behind home plate.

“It’s a big conference game for us. The schools are close to each other, so it’s kind of a rivalry and tensions were high. My teammates helped me stay calm out there,” Leonhardt said. “It’s always the goal to have them scratch a zero up there.”

With the sweep USI passes the 30 win mark with 18 games left in the regular season. They’re on pace to surpass last season’s win total of 35 and they can tie Sunday if they win the games against Saint Joseph’s College and University of Indianapolis Saturday and Sunday.