Illini Take Down Chicago Duo for Perfect Start to 2014

Ruby Rivera went a perfect 5-for-5 with three runs and two RBI in her debut at shortstop for the Fighting Illini.
Ruby Rivera went a perfect 5-for-5 with three runs and two RBI in her debut at shortstop for the Fighting Illini.

Feb. 7, 2014

Box Score

Rosemont, Ill. - The Fighting Illini could not have had a better start to the 2014 season, as the Orange and Blue dazzled on opening day with a pair of run-rule victories over Rosemont Rumble co-hosts and 2013 Horizon League Co-Champions Illinois-Chicago and Loyola. The Illini put together a total of 23 runs on 26 hits while the pitching staff allowed just three of their opponents across the plate, to defeat UIC, 12-2, in five innings and Loyola, 11-1, in six. Illinois finishes opening day with a 2-0 record, while UIC went 1-1 on the day and Loyola dropped its season opener to the Illini.

Illini rookies Ruby Rivera and Nicole Evans shined at the plate, as Rivera went 5-for-5 with two RBI and three runs, and Evans had three hits, including two doubles, two walks and five runs scored. Sophomore slugger Remeny Perez went 5-for-6 on the day with nine RBI including a grand slam, while returners Allie Bauch and Brittany Sanchez each went 4-for-7 with four runs and an extra-base hit and combined for seven RBI. Senior left fielder Alex Booker had two triples, two walks and five RBI, and fellow senior Jenna Mychko got on base five times, scoring three times and driving in two.

All three Illinois pitchers got a chance to show their stuff, as Shelese Arnold went the distance in game one to pick up a five-inning victory, and Brandi Needham earned her first career win after allowing just one run over five innings in game two. Jade Vecvanags came in to finish out the night cap, setting down Loyola in order in the bottom of the sixth to seal the deal for the Illini in relief.

“We were very excited for opening day to get here,” said Head Coach Terri Sullivan, “and I thought our team managed those emotions well. Our first-years made some great contributions for the first time in an Illini uniform, and in particular I felt we fed off of Ruby’s solid defense today.

“The offensive experience of Remeny, Allie, Brittany and Booker showed throughout the day, and our entire team made good adjustments. Additionally, Mychko did a solid job with our pitching staff all day.”

Illinois 12, UIC 2 (5 innings) | Box Score (PDF)

The Fighting Illini started the season with a bang, cruising to a 12-2 victory over the University of Illinois at Chicago in five innings. Remeny Perez went 3-for-4 with five RBI including a grand slam, and junior Brittany Sanchez went 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI. Sophomore Allie Bauch scored a team-high three times, going 1-for-2 with two walks and three RBI, and freshmen Nicole Evans and Ruby Rivera both had a hit, a walk and two runs in their first career appearance for the Fighting Illini. Jade Vecvanags also made her first career start at designated player, going 1-for-2 with a walk, and senior catcher Jenna Mychko had a hit, a walk and a run, while throwing out the only runner that attempted to steal off her. Rounding out the offensive lineup was fellow senior Alex Booker, who walked and knocked in a two-run triple.

Junior pitcher Shelese Arnold showed poise in the circle, shaking off a game-opening triple to hold the Flames to just two runs on four hits and two walks. The four hits came at two apiece by the top two batters in the UIC lineup, including a triple and a solo homer by Natalie Hernandez, while Arnold kept the remaining seven lineup spots hitless through all five innings.

Alice Fitzpatrick started in the circle for UIC, allowing five runs, four earned, on six hits and three walks, while striking out four over the first 3.0+ innings. Bridget Boyle then allowed the final seven runs on five hits and four walks over two innings, tabbing one strikeout.

UIC senior shortstop Natalie Hernandez got the Flames going quickly in the bottom of the first, as she drove Arnold's first pitch deep to the corner in right field for a leadoff triple. Jacki Fletcher drove her in with a single up the middle to score the first run of the game, before the Illini defense bared down to turn a double play and finish out the first with a strikeout.

Evans began the top of the second with a one-out walk, and a swinging bunt single by Sanchez put a pair of runners on base. Rivera walked to load the bases, bringing Bauch to the plate with two outs. She drove the ball to left-center for a 2-RBI single, but Heeley misplayed the ball in left, clearing the bases and allowing Bauch to get all the way to third. Perez then picked up her second hit of the day with an RBI single to right, giving the Illini a rapid 4-1 lead.

Wyss led off the bottom of the third with a walk, but Mychko threw her out on an attempt to steal second, and not a pitch too soon, as Hernandez cranked the next one over the wall in left field for a solo home run to cut the Illini lead to two.

Mychko led off the top of the fourth with a single to left-center, chasing Fitzpatrick from the circle to be replaced by Boyle. Bauch walked, then Booker came to the plate with two outs and two on. She drilled a ball deep to center field. After making it to third easily, she tried to stretch it to an inside the park home run and was nailed on a perfect strike from center by Wyss to end the inning, but not before two runs crossed the plate to make it 6-2 Illinois.

Evans kept the hit-parade going with a ground-rule double to straightaway center in the fifth, and Sanchez picked up an RBI with a single up the middle. Rivera loaded the bases with a single to short, and Bauch walked in a run to make it 8-2. Perez then smashed one over the wall in center to break the game wide open with her second career grand slam and set up a run-rule situation with a 12-2 lead.

Riding more than a comfortable lead, Arnold closed things out in the bottom of the fifth, setting down the Flames in order to finish out the game with a decisive 12-2 victory in five innings.

Illinois 11, Loyola 1 (6 innings) | Box Score (PDF)

Illinois kept the fire alive in game two, overcoming early struggles with runners in scoring position to capture an 11-1 victory over the Loyola Ramblers in six innings. The Illini topped their first game with 15 hits, including four by Rivera, who drove in two and scored a run. Bauch went 3-for-5 with two RBI and a run, and Perez, Evans and Sanchez each had two hits and combined for six runs scored. Booker hit her second two-run triple of the day and added an RBI walk, and Mychko went 1-for-2 with two RBI and two runs scored.

First-year pitcher Brandi Needham got the start in the circle, and demonstrated a resounding resilience with the rock, limiting the Ramblers to just one run on five hits and one walk while striking out two over five innings. After the Illini took an overwhelming 11-1 lead in the top of the sixth, Vecvanags came in to finish out the game, and hurled a perfect 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth to close out the win for the Illini.

Five different Ramblers had a hit for Loyola, all of which were singles, and Lauren Zaworski drew the only walk. Jessica Balzano scored the Rambler's lone run in the game, driven in by an RBI single by Tarran Shaffer.

Brittany Gardner started in the circle for Loyola, allowing nine runs, six earned, on 13 hits and three walks, but put together eight strikeouts over 5.1 innings. Kristina Vizza came in midway through the sixth, allowing the final two runs on two hits and a walk over 0.2 innings.

The first three innings were scoreless for both teams, as the Illini stranded runners on third in two of the first three innings, but Illinois finally cracked the scoreboard in the top of the fourth, as Evans led off the inning with a double to center. Sanchez followed by drilling an RBI triple down the right-field line, and Mychko put the Illini up 2-0 with a single to shallow center.

After mustering just one hit over the first three innings, the Ramblers began the bottom of the fourth with four straight base runners. Balzano got it started by beating out an infield single to short, and Lauren Moore followed with a single to right center. Zaworski walked on full count to load the bases, and Shaffer sent Balzano across the plate with a single to left. However, the rookie Needham showed outstanding resilience in the circle, getting the next three players to ground out to escape the inning with the Illini still on top, 2-1.

The Illini added to their lead in the top of the fifth, as the first five runners all reached base safely. Vecvanags opened the inning with hard shot to second that Balzano couldn't handle, and a pair of infield hits by Evans and Sanchez loaded the bases. Mychko drove in the first run after being hit by a pitch, and Rivera knocked in a run with a single to center. Gardner got the next two Illini to strike out, but Perez kept the inning alive with a bases-loaded walk to plate a fifth Illini run, and Booker followed suit with another RBI base on balls, as the Illini finished out the fifth with a 6-1 lead.

Illinois kept it going in the top of the sixth, as Evans led off with a walk. Mychko got on board with a hit by pitch, and Rivera then drove in another run with an RBI single to left. Bauch drilled one through the right side for a two-run single to give Illinois a 9-1 lead and once again put the Orange and Blue in position for a run-rule victory, and Booker nailed her second two-run triple of the day with a bomb to right field to give the Illini an 11-1 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth.

Vecvanags came in to relieve Needham to close out the game, making her first career appearance in the circle after starting both games at designated player, and retired the side in order to finish out the second-straight 10-run victory for the Illini by a final score of 11-1.

Next Up: The Illini return to the Dome at the Ballpark on Saturday, Feb. 8, to take on Eastern Illinois and IUPUI. The Illini face the Panthers at 11:30 a.m., followed by the Jaguars at 4:30 p.m.