Breaking bats: Aluminum-style (Softball)

Andrew Simon

LaVar Arrington, Matt Doherty – and Eileen Canney? The Northwestern pitcher doesn’t seem to fit in with the Pro Bowl linebacker and the former North Carolina basketball coach, but there she was.

In Monday’s “Daily Quickie” on ESPN.com’s Page 2, Canney was listed right along with her much more famous counterparts under the title, “Who’s Got the Momentum -”

This was just one of the many places Canney’s name was plastered after she tied an NCAA Division I-A record with 28 strikeouts in NU’s 4-3 18-inning victory against Minnesota on Sunday. Anyone who checked out the headlines on ESPN.com, SI.com, NCAAsports.com or many other sites came across the story.

“It’s a huge honor and it’s very, very cool,” Canney said. “But the most important thing is we won the game. It shows the team is tough, and if the game is tied or we’re losing, we can still come back against any team.”

After Canney’s performance against the Golden Gophers, it’s easy to see why the national media scooped up the story.

Canney pitched a complete game in NU’s longest regular-season contest since 1983 and surrendered two earned runs on five hits and four walks.

The 28 K’s tied Baylor’s Cristin Vitek for the single-game record and gave Canney 249 for the season, the fifth-best total in school history. In blowing away her previous single-game high by 11, Canney whiffed every opposing batter at least once.

“What impressed me the most was that she pitched 18 innings and gave up only three runs and five hits,” catcher Jamie Dotson said. “Most pitchers give up that much in seven innings. Also, she kept her cool the entire time and was never nervous. We all had complete confidence in her.”

The ironic thing about the junior’s performance was it started out as a sub-par outing. Canney’s ERA is a microscopic 1.19, but she allowed two runs in the first inning due to some uncharacteristic wildness.

The Golden Gophers loaded the bases with two outs when Canney issued two walks and hit a batter. First baseman Megan Arns followed with a two-run single to give Minnesota the lead.

“The first inning was very difficult,” Dotson said. “The umpires were giving her a small zone. Eileen gets great movement on her ball, and most umpires haven’t seen that before. It usually takes them an inning to adjust.”

After the rocky first inning, a new Canney emerged and shut down the Gophers for the rest of the game, allowing just one unearned run in the last 17 innings. She didn’t allow another base runner until the seventh and struck out at least one hitter in every frame except the sixth and 18th.

Even though the game kept dragging on, Canney continued firing away and said she never once considered leaving.

It would be hard to question her considering the stuff she clearly still had at the end of the game. Just ask Minnesota third baseman Mandy Valadez.

Valadez led off the 18th inning against Canney and swung at an inside fastball. The result was a pop-up and a broken bat. In the major leagues, broken bats might be comMonday, but in softball, which is played with aluminum bats, it’s a rarity.

And considering Canney had thrown so many pitches already, the feat is even more improbable.

“It was weird, because I didn’t even realize it was broken until they carried it away,” Canney said. “It sounded weird when she hit it. The ball wasn’t hit hard, but it sounded like it was. We had no idea it was even possible.”

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