Back-to-Back Shutouts Propel Illini to Best Start in Program History

Shelese Arnold did not allow a runner past first base in a two-hit shutout against Wright State.
Shelese Arnold did not allow a runner past first base in a two-hit shutout against Wright State.

Feb. 14, 2014

Wright State Box Score (HTML) | Pittsburgh Box Score (HTML)

Tampa, Fla. - The University of Illinois softball team opened the USF Tournament with a pair of shutout victories over Wright State and Pittsburgh to improve to 7-0 on the season and mark down the best start to a season in program history.  The Illini, who surpassed the previous record of six-straight wins to begin a season, set in 2001, 2003 and 2010, have now won 18 of their last 19 regular-season games. Wright State opened its season against the Fighting Illini, falling to 0-1, while Pittsburgh drops to 3-3 on the year.

Sophomore Katie Repole had a fantastic day at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a double, a walk, three RBI and a run, while eight different Illini crossed the plate in the doubleheader. Illini pitchers Shelese Arnold and Brandi Needham each tossed a complete-game shutout, combining for just seven hits, all singles, to go with seven strikeouts on the day.

"Our pitching was very strong today," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "Shelese and Brandi had solid command of all their pitches. We had consistent defense, with Ruby making a big-time play to stop an early run from scoring against Pitt. Chez ignited us at the right time, and Crash (Repole) brought her A-game today. The team continues to do their jobs and work well together."

Illinois 8, Wright State 0 (5 innings) | Box Score (PDF)

The Fighting Illini opened their outdoor season in style with a decisive 8-0 victory over Wright State in five innings. Sophomore Katie Repole, who struggled at the plate on opening weekend, went 2-for-2 with a walk, a double, a run and two RBI, while junior pitcher Shelese Arnold (3-0) hurled her third career shutout, allowing just three base runners on two singles and a walk, while striking out three batters. Arnold got the first two batters of each inning out and did not allow a runner past first base.

Sophomore Remeny Perez drove in the first two runs, going 1-for-2 with a walk, two RBI and a run scored, and senior Alex Booker went 1-for-3 with a stolen base and two RBI. Allie Bauch walked twice, stole a base, and scored two runs, and Jenna Mychko was aboard with a walk, a hit by pitch, and scored the final run of the game, driven in by a bases-loaded walk to Jade Vecvanags.

Wright State's Libby Pfeffer and Reagan Stofcheck picked up the Raiders' only two hits, both singles, while Kortney Tackett drew the team's sole walk.

Krystian DeWitt got the start for WSU, allowing seven runs, six earned, on four hits and five walks with one strikeout over four innings. Nikki Gershen gave up the final earned run on three walks and a hit batter in just one-third of an inning.

Sophomore Katie Repole kicked things off for the Illini in the top of the third with a leadoff double down the left field line. Vecvanags moved pinch runner Danielle Trezzo to third with a ground out to the right side, and Bauch walked and stole second to put a pair in scoring position with one out. Perez then ripped a two-run single to right center to put the Illini on the board, 2-0.

DeWitt struggled with control in the bottom of the fourth, putting Sanchez and Mychko on base with eight-straight balls. Ruby Rivera moved the pair into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt, and Repole came through with a two-run single to right to double the Illini's lead. Bauch and Perez then drew back-to-back walks to load the bases, and Booker drove in a pair with a single to right. She stole second, and a throwing error by the catcher allow Perez to come home, giving the Illini a sizable 7-0 lead at the end of the fourth.

Gershen came in to pitch for the Raiders in the bottom of the fifth, but after getting Sanchez to flyout, she hit Mychko with a pitch, then walked Rivera, Repole and Vecvanags to bring home the eighth run of the game and seal up the Illini's first shutout victory of the season, 8-0, in five innings.

Illinois 2, Pittsburgh 0 | Box Score (PDF)

The University of Pittsburgh had several chances to score against the Fighting Illini in game two of the USF Tournament, but freshman pitcher Brandi Needham showed resounding poise in the circle, stranding nine Panthers on base to earn her first career complete-game shutout with a 2-0 Illini victory. The Panthers left the bases loaded in the top of the first and had runners on second and third with less than two outs in two additional innings, but the Illini defense got the job done to secure the Orange and Blue its second-consecutive shutout.

Illinois scattered five hits across seven innings, as Katie Repole was 1-for-2 with an RBI single, and Nicole Evans and Brittany Sanchez both singled and scored. Jenna Mychko drove in the first run with an RBI single in the second inning, and Kylie Johnson singled as a pinch hitter in the sixth.

Similarly, five different Panthers singled for Pittsburgh, led by Jordan Fannin, who was 1-for-2 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt.

Needham improved to 4-0 on the year, allowing five hits and three walks over the full seven innings, striking out four batters. Alexa Larkin (1-1) gave up two earned runs on five hits and no walks with one strikeout over six innings.

The Panthers threatened early, stranding five runners over the first two innings, but it was the Illini who would get on the board first in the bottom of the second. Sanchez led off with a single through the right side, and after a groundout put her in scoring position, Mychko came through with a two-out RBI single to center to give the Illini a 1-0 lead.

Illinois tacked on another run in the bottom of the fourth, as Evans led off the inning with an infield single. Sanchez put her in scoring position with a sacrifice bunt, and Repole drove her home with a single to right center.

Pitt led off the top of the fifth with back-to-back singles by Kathryn Duran and Carissa Throckmorton, and a sacrifice bunt by Fannin gave the Panthers another prime scoring opportunity. However, Needham fired a key strikeout for the second out of the inning, and a lineout finished off the frame with the Illini still on top, 2-0.

The Panthers mustered a pair of hits over the next two frames, but Needham finished off the game with a groundout to short to close out the Illini's second shutout of the day with a final score of 2-0.

Next Up: The Illini are back in action at the USF Tournament Saturday, Feb. 15, when the Illini take on Binghamton at 6:15 p.m. ET. Illinois then faces No. 1/2 Tennessee, the 2013 NCAA Runner-Up, at 8:30 p.m. ET.