Illini Drop a Pair in Boca to Open FAU Tournament

Ruby Rivera was spectacular at shortstop, making nine assists and six putouts.
Ruby Rivera was spectacular at shortstop, making nine assists and six putouts.

March 8, 2014

Box Score

Boca Raton, Fla. - The Fighting Illini softball team was eager to hit the field this afternoon after their previous tournament was washed out, as the Orange and Blue scored in each of the first three innings of the day, but the Illinois defense was unable to keep the Illini on top, as they fell to No. 14 South Alabama, 5-3, and host Florida Atlantic, 8-4, at the FAU Tournament. The pair of losses drops Illinois to 11-5, South Alabama improved to 17-3, and Florida Atlantic finished  the day 17-10.

The Illini had four batters hit at least .500 on the day, as Alex Booker led the Illini with four hits and three runs to go along with two stolen bases. Remeny Perez and Kylie Johnson both slugged 1.000, as Perez had a single, a double and a home run on the day, and Johnson was 2-for-3 with a double against FAU. Freshman Ruby Rivera only had one hit, but it was a home run against USA, and she put forward lights-out defense at shortstop, tallying nine assists and six putouts.

The Illinois pitching staff, who entered the tournament with a combined 1.94 ERA, struggled in the circle, tabbing a 4.85 ERA on the day while allowing 18 hits, including a season-high 14 to the Owls.

"We were a step behind today," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "In the first game, we made some mental mistakes that a good team took advantage of. In our second game, we swung the bat well and came within inches of tying the game up, but FAU swung it better.

"I like how we fought in the late innings, and we will bring that aggressive mentality out tomorrow."

No. 14 South Alabama Comes Back to Top Illini, 5-3, in Tourney Opener | Box Score (PDF)

The University of Illinois scored a run in each of the first three innings, but No. 14 South Alabama scored four unanswered runs over the final four frames to capture a come-from-behind victory over the Fighting Illini, 5-3, in the Illini's first game of the weekend.

Alex Booker went 3-for-4 with two runs and two stolen bases, and Ruby Rivera hit a solo home run in the second. Remeny Perez doubled in the fourth, and Brittany Sanchez tabbed a two-out RBI single in the third, but a pair of Jaguar homers and some costly errors in the third inning led South Alabama to victory.

Brandi Needham (6-2) tossed the full six innings for the visiting Illini, allowing three earned runs on just four hits and no walks, striking out five. However, two of those hits were home runs, the first long balls surrendered in the rookie hurler's career, which were responsible for the three earned runs.

Hannah Campbell (5-2) went the distance for USA, giving up three runs, two earned, on six hits and no walks, with 10 strikeouts over the full seven innings.

The Jaguars' four hits were scattered across four different batters, with Chloe Rathburn and Alex Breeden both going deep. Amanda Minahan had an RBI single, and Stephanie Pilkington tabbed a single and a run. Kaitlyn Griffith was hit by a pitch twice and scored, while Taylor Rodgers scored an unearned run in the third.

Booker got things going for the Illini offense in the top of the first, hitting a high chopper that stayed just fair on the third-base line for a single. She stole second, then scored on an error by the second baseman off the bat of Jess Perkins, to give the Illini a quick 1-0 lead.

Rivera doubled the Illini lead in the top of the second, leading off with a solo shot over the wall in left. However, Rathburn did the same in the bottom half, drilling a leadoff shot to straightaway center to make it 2-1.

Booker laced a liner up the middle with one out in the third, then once again stole second. Perkins got on base by being hit by a pitch for the 16th time in her career, moving into a tie for fifth all-time in Illinois history, then Sanchez came through with a two-out RBI single up the middle to put the Orange and Blue back up by two, 3-1.

Rodgers led off the bottom of the third with a grounder to deep short. Rivera made the play, but Perez dropped the ball at first, allowing her to reach safely. Emily Messer bunted her over to second, then Pilkington singled to center. Sanchez got the ball back in quickly, keeping the runners at first and third, but Minahan followed with an RBI single to left. Blair Johnson grounded to short, and just beat the throw at first to avoid a double play, and as Pilkington rounded third, she caught the Illini's backs turned, and snuck around to score, just barely sliding under the tag at home, to tie the score at three apiece.

Booker made it 3-for-3 in the fifth with a single down the left field line, and Perez followed with a double to the wall in left center, but Campbell struck out the next two batters to strand the pair in scoring position and keep the score knotted at three.

Needham got the first two batters out in the bottom of the sixth, but she hit Griffith with a pitch, and Breeden then rocked a two-run shot to left to put the Jaguars on top, 5-3.

Returning to the circle with a lead for the first time, Campbell retired the Illini in order in the top of the seventh to seal the deal for South Alabama, with a come-from-behind victory by a final score of 5-3.

Four-Run Fifth Lifts Owls Past Illinois, 8-4 | Box Score (PDF)

The Fighting Illini collected 10 hits but allowed a season-high 14 to the host Florida Atlantic Owls, as FAU slugged past Illinois, 8-4, in the final game of the night at the FAU Tournament. Remeny Perez went 2-for-4 with a home run. Brittany Sanchez and Jade Vecvanags both tallied two hits and an RBI, and Kylie Johnson had a single and a double. Booker and Allie Bauch both scored runs and Rivera picked up an RBI.

All three Illini pitchers saw action in the game. Shelese Arnold (4-3) got the start and allowed the first three runs, just one earned, on five hits and two walks over three innings. Vecvanags came in to start the fourth and allowed four runs on six hits and two walks over the next two innings. Needham then closed out the game, giving up the final run on three hits with a strikeout in two frames.

Kylee Hanson tossed the complete game victory, evening her record to 5-5. She allowed four runs, three earned, on 10 hits without a walk or a strikeout over the full seven.

Carnesha Thompson led the Owls at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a stolen base and two runs. Whitley Herb, Christina Martinez, Shelby Knox, Jordan Stovall and Kathryn Spack all had two hits, and Knox and Mickey Bell both scored twice. Martinez hit a two-run double in the fifth to represent the Owls' only extra-base hit, and Stovall also drove in two.

The Owls threatened early, as the first two batters of the game reached on a pair of infield singles, and Shell put them in scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. Arnold got the second out with a pop up to shallow center. Then, with the bases loaded, a pitch got away from Jenna Mychko. She recovered quickly, so Herb initially stayed at third, but as she tossed it back, the ball trickled away from Arnold. Herb tried to take advantage of the miscue, but Rivera sprinted in from short and tug her out fo the final out of the inning.

FAU was the first to score in the top of the second, as Bell and Spack both walked, and Herb slapped a high chopper up the middle off the heel of Arnold's glove. The ball ricocheted into shallow left, and Bell just beat the tag at the plate to put the Owls ahead 1-0.

The Illini tied the score in the bottom half of the inning, as Sanchez led off on second due to a throwing error by the shortstop. She advanced to third on a fly out, then Vecvanags drove her in with an RBI single up the middle.

Illinois got the first two outs of the third, but a throwing error by Repole at third put Knox on second. Thompson ripped one to the left side, but a diving stop by Rivera held Knox at third. However, a successfully-executed double steal put FAU back on top, and an RBI single by Bell made it 3-1 Owls.

Perez got one back for the Illini in the bottom of the third with a solo home run to straightaway center.

The Owls added to their lead in the top of the fifth, capitalizing on five hits and a walk, including a two-run double for Herb, to take a 7-2 lead.

Johnson, Booker and Perez loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth with three singles, and Sanchez was hit by the first pitch she saw to drive in a run. Rivera just missed a grand slam with a drive to the wall in left, sending home Booker on the sacrifice fly to make it 7-4 before Vecvanags flew out to center to end the inning.

FAU scored again with two outs in the top of the sixth, as Stovall hit one to the left side which took an unexpected hop over Rivera to drive in Knox and make it 8-4.

The Illini got the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with a two-out rally, as Sanchez singled, Rivera hit one through the shortstop's legs, and Vecvanags loaded the bases with a single, but Mychko popped up for the final out as the Owls took the game, 8-4.

Next Up: The Illini return to FAU Softball Stadium on Sunday, March 9, for a rematch with No. 14 South Alabama at 10 a.m. ET, followed by 2013 CAA Champion Hofstra at 12:15 p.m. ET.