Record-setting day ends well for Illini
Feb. 12, 2005
Las Vegas, Nev. - The day began with a dubious record-setting performance and ended with a stellar record-setter for the Fighting Illini softball team. After surrendering a school-record 17 runs and committing a record eight errors as a team in a loss to No. 11 Washington, No. 22 Illinois rebounded with a post-season like performance in a 5-3 upset of No. 5 LSU at the UNLV Desert Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. The win, which came in front a large group of Illinois alumni, marked the highest ranked team that Illinois has defeated in school history.
"To be successful you not only have to be physically tough, but also mentally tough," said Illini Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "The coaching staff and the players have seen all fall and winter just how talented of a team we had. (Against LSU), we demonstrated that on the field."
The day couldn't have started any worse for Illinois (4-4) on Saturday morning. In the opener, Washington hitters pounded out 13 hits, including four home runs in a 17-7 rout of Illinois. The Illini had a tough day in nearly every category, committing a school-record eight errors and giving up eight earned runs. Washington's Kristin Rivera and Kathy Fiske each homered twice off of three different Illinois pitchers.
Washington led 13-0 after 2 ½ innings, but instead of folding, the Illini came alive. "I think we set the tone for the LSU game with how we responded to adversity against Washington," said Sullivan. "Although it is never our goal, this team really showed some heart in not letting the game end in five innings (due to the eight-run slaughter rule)."
Illinois' bats came alive in the bottom of the third. Down 13-0, the Illini rallied for five runs. The big blow in the inning was an RBI triple from Rachelle Coriddi. Illinois took advantage of two of the four Huskie errors in the frame. The Illini added two more runs in the fourth on a two-run single from Diller. Corriddi had two of Illinois' four hits in the game.
The LSU-Illinois match-up, the opener for the Tigers, was a rematch of last year's NCAA Regional Final in which the Tigers defeated Illinois, 4-1, en route to the College World Series. Although the teams were different (just one player combined on either team started in the same position that they did in that post-season game), Saturday's contest was played with a post-season feel.
After a disappointing fielding performance vs. Washington, Sullivan made some defensive switches. Jenna Hall made her first collegiate start at third base. Freshman Shanna Diller started at shortstop, sophomore Kisten Martin started at first base, Coriddi moved back to center field from shortstop with LeeAnn Butcher sliding once again to left. The result was no Illini errors and some highlight reel performances to boot.
After the first game Sullivan talked briefly with the team, then sent them back to hotel to change uniforms. With the new uniforms came a refreshed mindset for facing one of the nation's best teams. "Between games we talked about relaxing defensively and trusting our offense," Sullivan said. "While in past years we have been able to rely on our great defense and try to score enough runs to win, the roles are reversed this year."
Sullivan pointed out that game also saw the emergence of sophomore pitcher Mary Miller, who neutralized a powerful hitting LSU club. Miller improved to 2-1 on the season in picking up the win, striking out two and giving up six hits in 5.2 innings pitched. Freshman Claire DeVreese, who was solid in relief in game one, recorded her first career save.
The Illinois offense, meanwhile, pounded out 11 hits against LSU hurlers Megan Jolly (0-1) and Emily Turner. Diller was at the heart of the attack, going 3-for-4 with a home run, a double and three RBI. Fellow freshman Angelena Mexicano played like a veteran by going 3-for-3 with a run scored. The duo also combined for a crucial 4-6-3 double play with the tying run at the plate and no outs in the seventh.
"It was an amazing performance by our team," Diller said. "We went out there with the attitude that it's a brand new game and knew that we could rely on our teammates to get the job done. We know we have some talented players. We remained confident and went and proved it on the field."
Illinois wasted little time in setting the tone. Diller doubled down the right field line plating Butcher from second in the top of the first. After LSU tied the score with a run in the third, the Illini countered with two runs in the fourth and two in the fifth to take a 5-1 lead. Julie Balicki doubled home a run and Mexicano delivered a clutch two-out run scoring single in the fourth. Jenna Hall started the rally in the fifth with a single to center field setting the stage for a monster two-run shot off the bat of Diller that put Illinois up by four runs.
"I think Diller's home run really took a lot of the momentum away from LSU," said Sullivan.
LSU wasn't done, however. One of last year's heroes, Lauren Delahoussaye, hit a two-run home run that cut the deficit to two runs. DeVreese came in, however to close it out. Besides the seventh-inning twin killing, a double play in the sixth also was crucial to the victory. Coriddi made a catch in center and fired a throw to Martin to double up the runner at first.
"That was just a great win," Sullivan admitted. "We now have to use it as a stepping stone for the rest of the year and not look back."
The next step starts Sunday when Illinois meets Louisville and Wichita State in back-to-back games beginning at 10:30 a.m. CST to close out the tournament.