Juniors Jackie Guy (pictured) and Pepper Gay each tossed complete game shutouts on the day, with Gay holding UAB scoreless before Guy pitched a one-hit gem against Michigan State.
Feb. 12, 2012
MIAMI - Illinois softball swept a doubleheader with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1-0, in eight innings and Michigan State, 8-0, in five frames at the FIU Combat Classic on Saturday. Against UAB, junior starting pitcher Pepper Gay threw a complete game shutout to secure Illinois' first victory of the season, while freshman center fielder Brittany Sanchez scored the only run of the contest on a wild pitch. Facing Michigan State in the nightcap, Meredith Hackett went 2-for-2 with a three-run home run, single and walk to spark the Orange and Blue offense to their first mercy-rule win of the year. Junior starting pitcher Jackie Guy, matched Gay's performance against the Blazers with a one-hit shutout of the Spartans, striking out four to secure the second win in as many games.
"After the first game we talked about how you have to win in different ways throughout the course of the season and how it is key to win the one-run games," Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said. "You have to win the close ones and we need to have pitchers that can win a 1-0 game like Pepper did today.
"In the second game, we had another great performance from Jackie, one of best games she has thrown for us ever. Michigan State is always extremely aggressive at the plate and has a staff that is able to move the ball around and put together great pitching performances. Our lineup finally showed up and the offense drove the ball well to all fields. We had great at bats throughout the lineup, didn't stop hitting and played great team ball."
Game One: Illinois 1, UAB 0 (8 innings)
Illinois faced the University of Alabama at Birmingham during the first contest of Saturday's doubleheader, battling the Blazers in a pitcher's duel between Gay and UAB's duo of Leigh Streetman and Amber Torres. To earn the win, Gay went the distance for the Orange and Blue, striking out 11 Blazers - one shy of tying her career-high - while only allowing two hits and three walks. Gay set down the side on strikes in the second frame and fanned at least one batter in all but the fourth inning.
"Pepper was excellent against an offensively-minded team that as been scoring runs in this tournament," Sullivan said. "She really used all of her pitches and was moving them well, hitting spots and getting ahead in the count. A key for her was that she had pitching counts to work with, was throwing strikes and really challenged their hitters to hit her pitches. She went right at them. We weren't giving her run support and made mistakes on the basepaths, but she just continued to do her job."
Heading to extra innings with the game scoreless, the tiebreaker rule was enacted, with each team placing a runner on second base to start the home half of the eighth frame. Illinois took advantage of Sanchez starting the inning in scoring position, with senior third baseman Kelley Wedel, the leadoff batter, bunting the speedy center fielder to third to bring Hackett to the plate. With Hackett, a 2010 NFCA First Team All-American at bat, Sanchez took off for home when Torres threw an errant pitch to tally the lone run of the contest.
Gay capped off her domination of the Blazers with a clean eighth inning to earn the complete-game shutout. After Heather Pearson was placed on second in accordance with tiebreaker rules, Gay struck out leadoff hitter Erica Sisson swinging, before Maegan Hornsby sacrificed Pearson to third with a bunt. Down to the last batter, Gay induced a routine fly out by Amy Dennis to end the game.
"Pepper did what is expected from her as a junior," said Sullivan of her third-year starting pitcher. "She is tremendously talented and was in the zone. Her teammates knew she had their backs and that she only needed them to get her that one run. We need to have pitchers on-staff that can win games when the offense is not there. One-run games are so crucial to a successful season and to have a performance like this now to prove this team can win that way was a great lesson to learn at this point in season."
The Orange and Blue had chances to break the 0-0 tie throughout the contest, putting runners in scoring position during the second, third and sixth innings.
In the second, redshirt-junior shortstop Jessica Davis doubled to lead off the frame before back-to-back singles by freshman designated player Jess Perkins and redshirt-senior left fielder Danielle Vaji loaded the bases. However, freshman second baseman Jami Schkade popped out to second prior to Nikki Simpson reaching on a fielder's choice - with Davis forced out at home - and junior catcher Stephanie Cuevas striking out to end the threat.
With one out in the third, Wedel singled up the middle and stole second base before Hackett walked to put runners on first and second. Davis followed with a fielder's choice, with Wedel out at third, before Perkins flied out to center field for the third out.
Three innings later, with Torres pitching in relief of Streetman, Hackett singled and Davis walked to start the sixth. Two batters later, Hackett was tagged out at home following a Vaji single to center field. While Davis advanced to third and Vaji hustled to second on the play, Schkade grounded out to end the inning.
Both of UAB's hits came in the third inning, when Hornsby led off with a double and moved to third on a single by Dennis. Gay immediately locked in to strand the runners, fanning Whitney Fletcher looking for the first out of the frame. Catherine Crawford followed with a bunt toward first base, which Hackett fielded and fired home to Cuevas. After Cuevas applied the tag to Hornsby, the Sylmar, Calif., native threw down to second in an attempt to catch Crawford, who was racing there from first base to get into scoring position. When Davis, ranging to second to cover the bag, fielded the throw from Cuevas, the redshirt-junior relayed the ball back to the junior catcher in time to tag Dennis, who had advanced to third on the bunt and was rushing home on Cuevas' throw to second base.
UAB (1-2 overall) was only able to put one more runner in scoring position against Gay prior to the eighth inning. In the seventh, after Kayla Orr struck out looking, Mandy Lowman drew a walk and advanced to second on a groundout to first by Kristen McGrath. However, Gay struck out Kate Armstrong - the third time Gay set Armstrong down on strikes in the game - to send the contest to extra innings.
Game Two: Illinois 8, Michigan State 0 (5 innings)
Guy allowed the first Spartan batter, Lauren Padilla, to reach base on a single to center field; however, Cuevas caught Padilla stealing second to put away the only baserunner Michigan State would manage against Guy on the contest. The Buena Park, Calif., native notched four strikeouts while the Illini defense secured five flyouts and four groundouts to keep the Spartans off the basepaths during the mercy rule-shortened contest.
"Michigan State was aggressive at the plate and Jackie really didn't let them get into any rhythm," Sullivan said. "She attacked hitters, threw her pitches well and challenged them, which is what we wanted. Jackie was a leader in the circle, and had a nice day offensively at the plate as well. We wanted to really shut them down and, having the opportunity to play a Big Ten opponent at this point in the season, I liked Jackie's aggressiveness in throwing pitches and moving the ball through the zone."
The Illini offense put the game away early against Michigan State, scoring five runs while sending 10 batters to the plate in the bottom of the first inning. Wedel, the leadoff batter, was struck by a pitch before Davis doubled the Anaheim, Calif., native to third to put runners in scoring position with no one out. Hackett followed with the first Illinois home run of the season, sending a three-run shot over the right field fence to put Illinois ahead, 3-0.
"We knew coming into the weekend we had a talented offensive team that could put runs on the board, but it hadn't happened yet," Sullivan said. "That is credit to the pitchers we had faced before this game, but we can hit throughout the lineup. Scoring early was big; we had been dying to score against UAB. In this game, we were just aggressive from the get-go, had great execution from the whole team and brought the bats."
After Hackett's home run, the Orange and Blue added two more runs to turn the game into a rout and force Michigan State to make an early pitching change. Sanchez reached on a fielding miscue by Spartans third baseman Jayme O'Bryant and scored from first when Perkins followed with a double to right field. After Vaji was struck by a pitch to put runners on first and second, Michigan State went to the bullpen with recording an out in the game. After Carly Nielsen relieved starter Shelby Wise, Guy loaded the bases with a single to right field and Schkade connected on a sacrifice fly out to extend the lead to 5-0.
The Orange and Blue scored a lone run in the second and two more in the fourth to activate the mercy rule, which ends the game after five innings if one team is up by eight or more runs. In the second, Davis led off with a homer to right-center field as part of a 2-for-3, two run, one RBI performance. Two innings later, back-to-back RBI-singles from Guy and Schkade staked the Illini to an 8-0 lead entering the top of the fifth.
With Michigan State in need of one run to keep the contest going, Guy returned to the circle to set down the heart of the Spartans lineup in order. The junior pitcher induced a fly out to right field off Brett Williams' bat for the first out before Jenny Ramsaier grounded out to Guy and Sarah Bowling flied out to Simpson to conclude play.
Originally scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. CT, the contest was pushed back to a 9:10 start time due to previous games extending longer than expected throughout the day.
The win marks the only game scheduled between the Illini and Spartans during the regular season, as the addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten led to changes in the conference schedule.
Illinois (2-2) concludes play at the FIU Combat Classic with a 12:30 p.m. CT contest against the host-Panthers (0-3) on Sunday.