By Blake Moore
PLANT CITY & TITUSVILLE, Fla. — Senior infielder Hailee Loughman (Brookville) smashed a critical three-run home run and pitcher Kaitlin Surdej (Lancaster, N.Y./Central) surrendered just two earned runs in the ring, leading Ohio Northern to a victory over No. 20-ranked St. Benedict (Minn.) before falling to WPI (Mass.) 5-1 on the final day of the 2019 Sunkissed Games.
With Saturday's results, the Polar Bears move to 5-5 overall this season. Meanwhile, St. Benedict drops to 9-4 overall, and WPI rises to 7-5 overall in 2019.
Loughman and junior catcher/infielder Gabby Stewart (Union, Ky./St. Henry) led ONU offensively over the two-game span. The former ended the day with a team-high three RBI on a two-for-seven outing while the latter posted a team-high four hits in seven at-bats with one RBI.
Ohio Northern vaulted to an early 3-0 lead after the first inning in Saturday's opening contest due to Loughman's three-run big fly. Freshman Kara May (Saint Marys/Spencerville) and junior Alicia Swierz (Deerfield/Southeast) came around to score on the play after reaching base on back-to-back singles to open the inning.
St. Benedict answered with one run in the third inning following a sacrifice fly, cutting the Ohio Northern advantage to two. However, freshman Abby Elliott (Loveland/Ursuline) answered the score with an RBI single in the fifth.
In the bottom of the seventh, CSB attempted a late rally with a single, an ONU error, an RBI double, and a sacrifice fly to make the Polar Bear lead just 4-3. With the tying run on third base, Surdej sealed the victory with two consecutive popups to prevent the final comeback attempt.
Surdej was awarded the win in game number one after tossing seven complete innings, allowing just two earned runs and six total hits. She also recorded two strikeouts in the contest.
During the day's second matchup, ONU and WPI appeared to be locked in a pitcher's dual through the first two innings with just one hit between the two sides.
However, the Engineers manufactured three runs in the third and two more in the fourth to take a commanding 5-0 lead.
The Polar Bears responded with one run in the fifth on an RBI single from Stewart, but they could draw no closer over the final two frames.
Ohio Northern will return to action next Saturday, March 16 with a doubleheader against Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association foe Alma (Mich.). The home opener is set for 1 p.m. at the ONU Softball Field.