Illini gain split with Redbirds

Erin Montgomery hit her second homer of the season Wednesday
Erin Montgomery hit her second homer of the season Wednesday

March 10, 2004

Final Stats

Urbana, Ill. - The words Opening Day usually conjure up a good feeling to baseball and softball fans. The Illini softball team had its home opener Wednesday against Illinois State. The Illini and Redbirds split their twin bill with Illinois (14-5-1) winning, 6-5, in the opener and ISU (9-8) taking Game 2, 3-0 in front of 350 fans at Eichelberger Field.

Erin Montgomery's two-run blast that reached Florida Avenue highlighted a five-run sixth in the opener. That allowed Illini to overcome a 2-1 deficit to take a 6-2 lead. The Redbirds battled back to within one before Sherri Taylor came in relief to get the save. Lindsey Hamma was 2-for-4 batting in the leadoff spot as Illinois out-hit Illinois State 7-6.

Elene Planinsek singled and Sarah Baumgartner drew a bases-loaded walk to give Illinois a 1-0 lead in the first. ISU came back with two runs in the third on a two-run home run from Emily Kruger. That was the first of two home runs for Kruger and four total home runs for Illinois State on the night.

Illinois sent 10 batters to the plate in the third and scored five. Montgomery's blast plated Laura Zobrist, who pinch ran for Jenna Hall, who reached base four times in the game on three walks and a hit batsman. A pair of errors helped lead to the next three runs. Katie O'Connell singled home LeeAnn Butcher to make it 5-2 and Hall drew a bases loaded walk, her second of the inning, to make it 6-2.

The Redbirds made it 6-4 with another Kruger two-run home run in the fifth, then pulled to within a run when Randi Patton hit a line shot homer in the seventh. Amanda Fortune picked up the win, striking out six and giving up three earned runs. Taylor retired three of the four batters she faced, including two by strikeout to record the save.

Taylor started game two and really pitched well, striking out nine and allowing just four hits. Unfortunately for Taylor and the Illini, Illinois State plated three in the second on Stacy Birk's three-run home run. That was about all the offense for either side. The Illini couldn't catch up to Shannon Nicholson's change-up. Nicholson allowed just five base runners on four hits and one walk to improve to 4-2 on the season.

Hamma, Planinsek, LeeAnn Butcher, and Molly Lawhead (double) had the hits for Illinois. The Illini got two base runners in the seventh, bringing the tying run to the plate, but did not score.

"I was pleased with the crowd tonight," said Illinois Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "It's great to get a home game in, and we have knowledge fans who support us throughout the year. We would have like to sweep, naturally, but couldn't get the key hit when we needed it in the second game. I thought we came out aggressive at the plate in the first game to take the lead. Monty's home run got us fired up. Amanda and Sherri each got some big outs for us as well."

Illinois plays three of the nation's top teams next week at the KIA Classic in Fullerton, Calif., and returns home for a doubleheader with Drake on March 24 (4 p.m.).