ILLINOIS SPLITS FIRST DAY AT SPEEDLINE
March 6, 2003
Plant City, Fla. - It was a gorgeous day for softball as the Illini took the field looking to pick up where they had left off last time they hit the diamond. The Illini looked to be on that track as they started the day with an 8-6 come from behind victory of over Long Island University. The No. 22 ranked Bulls from South Florida had their own agenda as they handed the Illini a 1-0 loss on a solo home run from Carmela Liwag in the top of the sixth.
In the first contest of the day it took three pitchers and key players off the bench for the Illini to finally overtake Long Island. In a crazy opening contest that featured 20 hits between the two teams and five errors, it wasn't anything new to head coach Terri Sullivan. "A lot of times they say that the first game of a tournament can always be interesting," Sullivan said.
Illinois took an early 1-0 lead on a sac fly by Hall to score Hamma who had reached on an error to lead off the inning. From there the Illini struggled to hold down the Long Island bats as they put 2 on the board in the second and 4 in the third to take a 6-3 lead going into the fourth.
The fourth inning was everything for the Illini, as they would score 4 runs in the inning taking control of the contest for good. Baumgartner, who led the Illini on the day going 3-3 and scored 2 runs, started the rally with a single to center. With Baumgartner reaching base, the Illini were already facing two outs in the inning. That's when Illinois got some help from the bench, Laura Gronski would get a key pinch hit single to move Baumgartner and set Lindsay Hamma up with a chance to do some damage. Hamma then singled and drove in Baumgartner to make the score 6-4. With two runners on, Rachelle Corridi hit a dribbler to the mound in which the pitcher overthrew first and set the Illini runners wild. With Hamma sliding into home in the same play, the catcher tried a throw to third to get Butcher who was pinch running for Gronski but overthrew third and allowed everyone to score including Corridi.
"Everyone on our team understands their role," Sullivan said. "I was really impressed with Bridget Pluta and Laura Gronski with coming in and getting hits at crucial times." Pluta delivered a pinch-hit single in the sixth to set up a key insurance run to set the score at 8-6.
Sherri Taylor started the game, but could only go 1.1 innings allowing 2 runs on 4 hits, before Jackelyn Diekemper would try only to last 1.0 inning allowing 4 runs on 4 hits. The Illini did find some good Fortune however, Amanda Fortune that is (5-0), who entered the game in the third and didn't allow a run while only allowing 3 hits in her 4.2 innings of relief.
In a game that started two hours behind schedule the Illini couldn't find the answers it needed for the No. 22 ranked Bulls. It was a game that featured star pitching as Leigh Ann Ellis (10-2) of South Florida tossed a complete game shutout only allowing 4 Illini hits. In the Illini's corner stood Amanda Fortune who earlier beat Long Island, brought all she could to the table in the nightcap allowing only 4 hits as well, but would make one mistake that cost her as she allowed a solo home run in the top of the sixth to fall to 5-1 on the season.
"It was a great game, a really hard fought battle," assistant coach Larabee said. "I thought Amanda Fortune threw a great game, definitely one good enough to win, and we had opportunities, but we just didn't execute when we needed to."
Illinois will continue play Friday when they take on Western Michigan (10 a.m. EST) and Coastal Carolina (12 p.m.). Saturday they wrap up pool play with No. 12 Stanford at 12 p.m. EST and start bracket play at 5 p.m.