The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

EIU ends doubleheader with walk-off home run

Eastern split the doubleheader against Tennessee State after a walk-off two-run home run from graduate utility player Rachel Kauffman (File)

Eastern’s softball team split their doubleheader header with Tennessee State University on Saturday afternoon. The Panthers lost their first game 5-1 and won their second game 9-7. 

Freshman pitcher McKenzie Oslanzi was credited for both games, gaining a win and a loss. Her record after the doubleheader stands at 15-3. 

While Oslanzi earned her win, it can’t go without noting senior pitcher Olivia Price’s performance in the second game. The 2023 Ohio Valley Conference Female Athlete of the Year pitched 4.1 innings and allowed four runs. 

“I thought Olivia was huge for us today,” head coach Tara Archibald said. “That’s a veteran moment right there. She looked so composed; She was the calm that we needed as a team right there, just to get our bearings underneath us.” 

The bearings fell off in the earlier game on Saturday. Archibald referred to the team as “timid” while also noting that they were “on their heels”.  

Price had the recipe to correct that. 

“I knew what the team needed,” Price said. “I knew we needed to calm down after the last game. I knew we were in a state of panic.” 

The first inning of the second game was successful for the Panthers, a refreshing turnaround from the first game. The team had eight at-bats and scored four runs, while the defense didn’t allow a single TSU player on base. 

“We needed that big time,” Archibald said. “After that first game, to come out and put four up, I think that was huge. It helps with the confidence piece. It also gets [the team] riled up and got some energy into the dugout as well.” 

Eastern’s success would be short lived however, as the Tigers gradually chipped at the lead until the game was tied 4-4 in the fifth inning.  

Tennessee State’s pitching was to blame for Eastern’s lack of offensive performance. 

Junior pitcher Reina Castillo was brought in for sophomore Holly Ayala with one out remaining in the first inning. Castillo would put an end to Eastern’s bombardment and hold the Panthers scoreless for the next four innings. 

Eastern broke through the scoring barrier in the fifth, tallying three runs. One of these runs was scored when graduate utility player Rachel Kaufman stole home off a stray pitch.  

Eastern had a 7-5 lead going into the final inning of the game. At this point, Oslanzi had been pitching for the past 1.2 innings.  

“When I’m going into the seventh inning, I’m thinking, ‘Alright, I’m trying to get three more outs, that’s all I have to do,’” Oslanzi said. 

The first batter struck out looking. One run down. 

The second batter then singled on a grounder, still two more outs to go. 

The third batter, however, had other plans. She took a ball deep over the centerfield fence, scoring a two-run home run and tying the game. 

Oslanzi wrapped up the inning with a pop fly and a strikeout. 

The game was now in Eastern’s hands in the bottom of the seventh. Senior infielder Jadin Justman got on first from a third baseman error. 

Kaufman, who stole home earlier in the game, took the plate one final time. 

“I just needed to see a ball, I was looking for a middle-away pitch and see it through the zone,” Kaufman said. “Make sure I hit a strike.” 

Kaufman got her ball. She drove it deep past the center field fence, scoring a two-run home run of her own.  

“It was awesome, it was a good feeling,” Kaufman said. 

The Panthers won the second game 9-7 off of Kaufman’s walk-off. Despite the win, Archibald says work still needs to be done. 

“I think we just got to a little bit of a spot back there, in the last two games, where we doubted ourselves,” Archibald said. “It’s just getting our confidence back and trusting our preparation. Also, trusting our talent, because we have it.” 

The Panthers will have a rematch against Tennessee State in the final game of their series on Sunday. The game will take place at 11 a.m. on Williams Field. 

Aidan Cusack can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]. 

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