Shortstop Danielle Vaji increased her batting average to .400 on the season wth a productive day at the plate.
Feb. 18, 2011
MIAMI - The Fighting Illini softball team shut out Providence in a mercy-rule shortened contest, 8-0, before falling to #17 Georgia Tech, 5-4, during the first day of competition at the Blue and Gold Felsberg Memorial Tournament. Shortstop Danielle Vaji led the Illini at the plate, going 4-for-7 with a triple, RBI and run scored over both contests. Sophomores Pepper Gay and Jackie Guy combined to allow only one earned run and seven hits in 11 innings of work while striking out 13 batters.
"In the first game we really controlled the tempo and did what we should offensively and defensively," head coach Terri Sullivan said. "Pepper [Gay] pitched a great game and spotted the ball well. Everyone contributed at the plate and we took care of business. In the second game we put ourselves in a hole early and they scored runs without really having to work too hard. We had a chance to tie it but didn't get it done. Both Georgia Tech's pitcher [Hope Rush] and Jackie [Guy] pitched well as the game went on."
Game One: Illinois 8, Providence 0 (5 innings)
Illinois trounced the Providence Friars behind a trio of multi-hit performances at the plate and Gay's dominance in the circle. Right fielder Hollie Pinchback, third baseman Kelley Wedel and Vaji each had two hits while Gay fanned a career-best 10 batters in only five innings of work.
"It's important, we believe we have that type of lineup," said Sullivan on every Illini contributing offensively. "We can do special things during games when there is pressure. We have a talented lineup that can make plays and role players who can come in for us too."
The Illini scored in each of the four frames they stepped to the plate during, scoring two runs in the first and fourth innings, one in the second frame and three in the third. Wedel's first hit of the game put the Orange and Blue ahead by two runs as the Anaheim, Calif., native batted a single through the middle of the Providence infield.
In the second inning, Jessica Davis singled up the middle with a runner on third to increase the Illinois lead to 3-0. One frame later, the Illini took advantage of a Providence fielding miscue to score two before Zymkowitz raced home from third on a passed ball to put Illinois in front, 6-0.
The Orange and Blue reached the eight run NCAA-mandated mercy rule in the bottom of the fourth inning on back-to-back RBI singles from Vaji and Nikki Simpson. With one out in the inning, Guy drew a walk and Alex Booker stole second base as the pinch runner. Vaji followed with her RBI single to plate Booker before Simpson tallied the final RBI of the contest as the next batter, with Wedel scoring from third after reaching base as a result of an error.
Gay earned her second win of the season through a dominant performance, during which she only allowed two hits and two walks while earning 10 of the 15 outs the Illini needed via the strikeout. Gay started off the day by issuing a walk to the Friars' leadoff batter, Michelle Huber, in the first inning. The St. Pius X Catholic graduate followed with six consecutive strikeouts to breeze through the opening two frames and set the tone for the game. Gay recorded at least one strikeout in every inning, while she neutralized the middle of the Friars' lineup by setting the 3-5 hitters down on strikes in five of their six combined at bats.
"I knew that after last weekend I needed to change how I approached batters and be more aggressive," Gay said. "I made more first pitch strikes today, all my pitches worked well and I was really confident."
Game Two: #17 Georgia Tech 5, Illinois 4
The Illini dropped a hard fought game against the 17th-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 5-4. Georgia Tech broke through for five runs in the first two innings before Guy settled in and held the Yellow Jackets without a run for the remainder of the contest. The Illinois offense chipped away at the deficit in the second and fifth innings but was unable to find the equalizing run.
The Illini tied the score at 3-3 in the top of the second inning following a defensive miscue in the first frame that put the Orange and Blue in a three run hole. Danielle Vaji led off the second with a triple to left field, Ashley Conrad walked and Booker singled to load the bases. Zymkowitz produced an RBI single to right field to make it 3-1 before Pinchback secured two RBIs and the tie by reaching on a fielder's choice.
Jessica Davis knocked her first home run of the season, a solo shot to left-center field, to pull Illinois within one run at 5-4. The Orange and Blue were able to place runners on base in the final three frames to put pressure on the Yellow Jackets, with their best opportunities being in the fifth and seventh frames.
Following Davis' home run, Wedel singled with one out and Conrad walked to put runners on first and second with two outs before Booker flied out to center field to end the threat. Down to their last out in the seventh, Vaji reached on a fielding error and Conrad walked but the Illinois lineup was unable to plate a fifth run.
Jackie Guy took the loss for Illinois despite allowing only one earned run in six innings of work by holding the dangerous Georgia Tech lineup to only five hits in 21 at bats.
Up Next: The Illini (3-4) continue play at the Blue and Gold Felsberg Memorial Tournament with a doubleheader against Pittsburgh and Florida International. Game one is scheduled to start at 2 p.m., while the first pitch of the second game will occur at approximately 6 p.m.