Shanna Diller scored the game-winning run after knocking an RBI double in the seventh.
Feb. 24, 2008
MIAMI - Senior third baseman Shanna Diller knocked a game-tying double then scored on a pair of errors in the top of the seventh as Illinois edged the Florida International Golden Panthers, 7-6, in the finale of the Golden Panther Invitational. The Illini finished the weekend 3-2 to improve to 8-7 overall.
"It's good to have a battle like this early in the season because those are the games that are fun for true competitors and we'll face more of those battles throughout the season," head coach Terri Sullivan said. "We knew we were going to have to keep fighting all the way through the game and we had some really clutch plays."
Claire DeVreese (7-4) got the win, giving up three earned runs on 11 hits with three strikeouts and no walks. Ashley Wright also tossed an inning and a third in middle relief, giving up two earned runs on two hits.
"Our pitchers fought through it today," Sullivan said. "They may not have been as sharp as they can be, but that's how it goes sometimes and you've just got to keep working."
Illinois quickly took a 4-0 lead in the first inning after second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz led off the game with a single then stole second. Armstrong got the offense going with a two-out single up the middle to score Zymkowitz. Designated player Hollie Pinchback and Howell followed with back-to-back singles to add another run. With runners at the corners, the Illini pulled a double steal, with Howell reaching second and Pinchback running home on the throw down to make it 3-0. Howell later scored after a pair of Golden Panther miscues.
FIU responded with a run in the bottom half of the first thanks to three consecutive singles and an Illini error, but the Golden Panthers left two stranded as DeVreese got out of the inning with a strikeout.
The Panthers added two more runs in the third to cut Illinois' lead to one. FIU's Amanda Cox knocked a two-out single before Ashley Falk hit a home run to make it 4-3.
FIU continued to rally in the fourth, tying the game on Kim Rodriguez's RBI-single.
Illinois battled back in the top of the fifth, regaining the lead when Diller knocked a two-out double then scored on Armstrong's single to right-center.
The Panthers wouldn't go quietly though, tying the game again in the bottom half of the inning when Falk scored on a base-hit to make it 5-5. FIU took then took the lead in the sixth when Rodriguez homered.
This time it was the Illini who wouldn't go quietly, as Zymkowitz stepped in with one out and bunted, reaching first when the third baseman mishandled the ball. Down to the final out with Zymkowitz at second after a passed ball, Diller stepped to the plate and drove a double to the wall to tie the game, 6-6. Heads-up base-running allowed Diller to continue around the bases, as she crossed the plate on two errant throws to give Illinois the 7-6 victory.
"That's why you practice really," Sullivan said. "To take advantage of situations like that."
FIU had another chance in the bottom of the seventh, getting a one-out single. DeVreese shut down the top of the Panther order though, getting a grounder before freezing the final batter for the strikeout.
Although the Illini pitchers struggled, allowing 13 hits and six runs, they combined to strand 11 Golden Panthers thanks to the sharp defense.
"The defense was key for us," Sullivan said. "Overall we really grew defensively over the weekend. I'm really proud that our defense is taking more pride in what they're doing.
"We had fairly strong weekend and now we want to build on the things we did well and take those into next weekend."
Illinois will return to Florida on Friday, this time heading to Boca Raton for the Miken Classic hosted by Florida Atlantic. The Illini open on Friday at 9 a.m. (ET) against Rutgers then square off against Central Michigan at 11 a.m. (ET).
Angelena Mexicano knocked her third career grand slam against UConn to lead Illinois to an 8-0 win. She finished the weekend with seven RBIs and two home runs.
Danielle Zymkowitz continued to be a table-setter in the leadoff position, batting .412 with five runs scored.
Illinois had a balanced attack, outscoring its opponents 25-16 while committing just six errors through five games.