Senior right fielder Nikki Simpson had a run-scoring double in the contest against Massachusetts.
Feb. 10, 2012
MIAMI - Illinois softball dropped a doubleheader with Massachusetts, 4-1, and No. 25 Louisville, 8-3, during the opening day of the FIU Combat Classic on Friday evening. Senior right fielder Nikki Simpson earned a run-scoring double for the Illini while freshman pitcher Shelese Arnold threw 2 2/3 scoreless frames in relief during the contest with the Minutewomen. Against No. 25 Louisville, senior first baseman Meredith Hackett and freshman designated player Jess Perkins each tallied one RBI, with Hackett going 1-for-3 with a double.
"We had opportunities today to play some great pitchers and offensively we let them set the tone for us," Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said. "In the first game, we got going too late and didn't execute our game plan, and the same was true in the second contest. We only had six hits in two games against quality pitching. We plan to bring our bats tomorrow and write a different story."
Game One: Massachusetts 4, Illinois 1
The Minutewomen, who entered the contest receiving votes for the NFCA Preseason Top-25 Poll, scored first with three runs in the bottom of the third. Cyndil Matthew reached home on a Kyllie Magill sacrifice fly out and Katie Bettencourt connected on a two-run homer to create the advantage before UMass tacked on one more in the fourth on a Matthew RBI double for a 4-0 lead.
Illinois responded with its only run of the contest in the fifth inning. Perkins earned her first collegiate hit with a single to left field. Two batters later, with Perkins on second following a wild pitch, Simpson doubled to center field. Perkins scored on the play to cut the deficit to 4-1, but Simpson was caught between second and third to end the threat.
Junior starting pitcher Jackie Guy took the loss in the contest, giving up four runs on five hits in 3 1/3 innings of work. Arnold faced nine batters in relief of Guy, only allowing one hit over the rest of the game. Two-time NFCA All-American Sara Plourde earned the victory for Massachusetts.
Originally scheduled to start at 2 p.m. CT, the game against the Minutewomen was pushed back due to inclement weather in Miami, with first pitch coming at approximately 5 p.m. CT instead.
Game Two: No. 25 Louisville 8, Illinois 3
The Orange and Blue tallied first in the nightcap against No. 25 Louisville, earning a one-run advantage in the first frame. Freshman center fielder Brittany Sanchez walked on four straight pitches to lead off the inning. Two batters later, Hackett connected for a two-out, two-strike double to right field to score Sanchez from first and stake the Illini to an early lead.
Louisville responded with two runs in the second and one more in the fourth to go ahead, 3-1. Taner Fowler connected on a two-run homer to give the Cardinals the lead in the second, while Kristin Austin's RBI triple in the fourth put Louisville ahead by a pair of runs.
The Illini fought back in the bottom of the fifth to tie the contest at 3-3, using plate discipline throughout. Redshirt-senior pinch hitter Danielle Vaji singled to third, and Sanchez and senior third baseman Kelley Wedel drew back-to-back walks to load the bases with one out. Redshirt-junior shortstop Jessica Davis followed with a fielder's choice, with Vaji out at home, before all three runners moved up one base on a wild pitch to cut the deficit to one. With Wedel on third and Davis on second following the errant pitch, Hackett drew back-to-back walks to force in a pair of runs and knot the score at 3-3, with Perkins earning her first collegiate RBI in the process.
However, the Cardinals responded with five runs, all unearned, in the following frame to re-establish the lead for good at 8-3. Katelyn Mann, the leadoff batter for the inning, tripled and scored on an error to put Louisville ahead, 4-3. Jordan Trimble added the second run of the stanza with an RBI-single four batters later and Maggie Ruckenbrod followed with a three-run home run to cap scoring in the contest.
Due to inclement weather throughout the day, the first pitch of the Illinois-Louisville contest was not thrown until approximately 7:30 p.m. CT, three hours and 30 minutes after the originally scheduled start time of 4 p.m. CT.
Illinois (0-2 overall) returns to action on Saturday with a doubleheader against Alabama-Birmingham (1-0) and Big Ten-foe Michigan State (0-1). The Orange and Blue will battle UAB first, with the game beginning at approximately 2 p.m. CT, before facing the Spartans at 6 p.m. CT. Due to the changes in the Big Ten schedule with the addition of Nebraska, the non-conference contest with the Spartans will be the only meeting between the two teams this season.