UIC softball compiled wins over Southern Illinois, North Florida and NC State to start the season 3-2 after a strong showing at the Combat Classic.
The No. 2 pick in the Horizon League pre-season coaches poll, the Flames finished the first day of competition with blowout wins over Southern Illinois, 9-1, and North Florida, 4-1. Freshman hurler Devin Miller showed no nerves in her college debut with five Ks in five innings and just one earned run for the recorded win against Southern Illinois. She was assisted at the plate by UIC junior Kelsey Sturgeon who tallied three hits in three at-bats for two runs and an RBI.
In their second day of action the Flames suffered two losses but by narrow margins losing to UMass and Florida International.
UIC jumped out to a 4-0 lead over UMass but couldn't hold it together after a home run off the Massachusetts bat of Michelle Libby brought in three runs and blew the game open. The Minutemen would score two more in the sixth and seventh to take the win, 5-4, and give Miller her first loss on the season.
Against FIU it was a pitcher's duel that UIC pitcher Ashley Hewett handled skillfully. Her only two earned runs came in the first inning to give the Panthers a 2-0 head start, but the Flames never mounted much of an attack with just three hits total and Melinda Macias responsible for the only run scored against Panther pitcher Kasey Barrett who struck out eight Flames. The Panthers won it 2-1.
But UIC rallied on the final day of play and pulled out a 3-1 win over NC State with well-crafted manufactured runs including a Christie Seddon bunt-and-steal muster that scored off of a sacrifice fly by Stephanie Chavez in the fifth. That same inning also saw freshman Melissa Preish put down a perfect bunt in her first career at-bat. Miller picked up her third win on the mound in another solid performance that was enhanced by the smart coaching of second year softball coach Michelle Venturella.
Kelsey Sturgeon was an impact hitter for the tournament with five hits in 11 at-bats and three runs, but more importantly UIC now has a proven powerful 1-2 pitching punch with Ashley Hewett now reliably supplemented by the dominant Devin Miller. Miller gave up just three earned runs in three games and struck out 11.
The Flames will face California, Indiana, BYU, Long Beach State and Oregon this weekend at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic.