Mychko Home Run Completes Six-Run Comeback Over FAU
March 4, 2012
LAS VEGAS - Illinois softball completed their second consecutive come-from-behind win with six unanswered runs against Florida Atlantic, earning a 7-6 victory to close competition at the Eller Media Stadium Classic on Sunday. Catcher Jenna Mychko scored the tie-breaking run with a solo homer off the left field foul pole, the first of the sophomore's collegiate career, in the seventh inning on the first pitch of the at bat. Mychko finished 2-for-4 on the day, also contributing an RBI-single to the comeback effort.
"During my previous at bats I wasn't being very aggressive and that's not how I hit," said Mychko when explaining her approach in the seventh inning. "I was going up there looking for anything close and I was looking to get on base for the team. It just happened to be a home run, which I am very thankful for."
The Orange and Blue (9-9 overall) tallied first, scoring one run in the top of the second inning. Freshman right fielder Jess Perkins led off the frame with a double to center field. Two batters later, starting pitcher Jackie Guy helped her own cause with an RBI-double down the left field line, scoring Perkins from second on the play.
"It was key in today's win that we scored several runs on big hits, which energized the dugout and the team," Illinois head coach Sullivan said. "There is nothing better than seeing teammates cross home plate and I thought that was big. I am happy with some of our young batters, particular Jess Perkins, who has consistently been hitting the ball well for us."
However, Florida Atlantic responded in the bottom of the frame, putting up all six of its runs to take a sizeable lead into the third. The Owls tallied an RBI-single from Whitney Herb before Heather Barnes drew a bases-loaded walk two batters later to plate the second run. Following Barnes' at bat, Carly Speering homered to left-center, staking Florida Atlantic to its 6-1 advantage.
"Today reinforces something all coaches say to their players, though it's a cliché, it's not over until it's over and you need to play the game until the end," Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said. "But until you actually experience a game like that where you come from behind, sometimes I think players wonder what they can really do."
Illinois answered with four runs of its own in the top of the third to cut the FAU lead to 6-5. The Illini sent eight batters to the plate during the frame, scoring runs on singles by senior first baseman Meredith Hackett and Mychko and a fly ball by senior third baseman Kelley Wedel.
"In football you often hear that if you win the turnover battle, you are in a good position to win the game. Well, in softball, a grand slam is kind of the equivalent," Sullivan said. "It was key that our team didn't blink an eyelash after the grand slam and instead responded right back with four runs, knowing today they would have to win this game in a different way."
Redshirt-senior left fielder Danielle Vaji reached on an error to lead off the visitor's half of the third before redshirt-junior shortstop Jessica Davis singled to left field. With runners on first and second, Hackett sent a base hit to left-center field, scoring Vaji from second for an RBI. Herb, playing in center, raced over to make the play, but sent an errant throw back into the infield, allowing Davis to rush home to cut the deficit to 6-3, while Hackett advanced to third during the play.
Still with no one out in the frame, Mychko cut the FAU lead to two runs with an RBI-single into left field and was replaced by pinch runner Alex Booker at first base. After Perkins singled to shortstop, freshman center fielder Brittany Sanchez advanced both Illini one base with a sacrifice bunt. Wedel followed with a fly ball to right field, scoring Booker from third to pull Illinois within one run of tying, 6-5.
The Illini evened the contest in the fifth, with Perkins earning her second double of the contest to put a runner in scoring position with one away. After Sanchez moved Perkins to third with a groundout, FAU reliever Samantha Messer was called for an illegal pitch, advancing Perkins home to score the sixth Orange and Blue run.
After Mychko created the difference with the long ball, FAU (6-13) attempted a last-inning rally, putting runners on first and second in the seventh before reliever Pepper Gay closed the contest. Stephanie Call led off with a single to right field; however, Gay responded with back-to-back strikeouts of Jordan Stovall and Joshlyn Martinez before issuing a full-count walk to Alison Milam. With two on and Herb at the plate, Gay induced a lineout back to the circle to end the contest, earning her seventh win of the season in the process.
"The biggest story of the game was Jenna [Mychko]," Sullivan continued. "Jenna has battled injuries, she was ready to go this year and then had another injury right before the season, but she gets that seventh inning two-out home run that hit foul pole at such a critical time in game."
Guy got the start for the Illini, throwing 1 1/3 innings while allowing six runs - five earned - on three hits and two walks, striking out one Owl. Gay took over in the circle during the second inning, eventually tossing 5 2/3 frames of one-hit relief, striking out nine FAU batters while walking four.
Illinois has one week off before returning to action to conclude tournament play at the USF Under Armour Invitational from March 16-18. The Orange and Blue will face Providence, Boston University, Massachusetts, Maryland and Tennessee-Chattanooga while in Clearwater, Fla.
Game Notes: Mychko hit .444 on the weekend (8-for-18) with eight RBIs, 12 total bases and a .667 slugging percentage ... Perkins improved her season batting average to .377 (20-for-53) with a 7-for-16 (.438) performance in Las Vegas, accounting for five runs scored, two doubles and a .474 on-base percentage courtesy of reaching twice via walks ... Gay earned all three wins on the weekend, striking out 25 batters in 20 1/3 innings while owning a 1.38 ERA and .141 batting average against.