Happy Homecoming: Illini Slug Past Broncos, 13-1, in Home Opener
March 14, 2014
Urbana, Ill. - The Illinois softball team put on quite a show in today's home opener, cruising past Western Michigan, 13-1, at Eichelberger Field. The Broncos took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, but Illinois scored 13 unanswered runs, including an eight-run fourth inning, to trounce the Broncos, 13-1, in the third game of the Fighting Illini Classic.
"It's always exciting to be home for games," said junior Jess Perkins. "After traveling for five weekends, we were really excited to get some nice weather out here and finally play on our home turf and be able to pull out a win."
As a team, the Illini collected a total of 14 hits, while freshman Brandi Needham (8-2) held the Broncos to just one run on four hits, striking out three without surrendering a walk over the full five innings. She gave up three hits and a run in the first inning, then allowed just one more base runner on an infield single in the second, before shutting down the final 10 Bronco batters in order.
"I was just trying to throw my pitches and do the best that I could for my team, play for my seniors, give them a win," said Needham.
Kylie Johnson and Brittany Sanchez both went 3-for-3 with three runs each and a combined five RBI, as Johnson added a double and a stolen base. Allie Bauch was 2-for-4 with a double, while Alex Booker scored twice and had an RBI single. Jess Perkins hit a massive home run to drive in three of the eight runs in the fourth, while also drawing the only walk of the game. Four additional Illini had hits in the game, including a double by Katie Repole and a pinch hit single by Dana Sullivan, the first hit of her career.
"We were just seeing the ball really well," said senior Jenna Mychko," who singled, scored and drove in two. "We were excited to be at home and we were ready to play. We were doing the little things; getting runners on, moving them over, and then hitting the ball on the ground to get our runners to score, and just doing everything we needed to do."
"We've just been really trying to focus on stringing hits together, so being able to execute and get all those runs in the fourth inning was really crucial," said Perkins. "It was great team play. We were really focusing on pitch by pitch and getting hits when we needed them. We got a lot of two-out hits, which is exactly what coach has been asking us to do."
Jenny Rohn singled and scored the lone run for the Broncos in the first, driven in by an RBI single from Loren Nagy. Kelsea Cichocki and Ivy Schaaf collected the only other hits for WMU, both singles, before Needham retired the final 10 batters of the game.
Allyson Kus (6-10) tossed the full five innings for Western Michigan, giving up 13 runs, 11 earned, on 14 hits and a walk with one strikeout.
"Early on, we had some solid execution and great team play to get our offense going," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "I was pleased with the focus we had on the specific goals we set today. Our defense made the routine plays, and Bee pitched her game after settling in."
Western Michigan struck first, stringing together three singles to take a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Rohn roped one to second; Bauch laid out and made the diving stop, but couldn't make an accurate throw to first in time. Ritsema dropped down a sacrifice bunt, and Cichocki and Nagy followed with back-to-back singles to plate the first run of the game.
Sanchez led off the top of the second with a single to shallow left. Perkins drew a walk, and Ruby Rivera bunted the pair into scoring position. Mychko then tied the score with an RBI groundout to short, sending Sanchez across the plate for the Illini's first run of the game.
The Illini took the lead in the top of the third, as Johnson and Bauch led off with a pair of infield singles. A ground out put them in scoring position, and Booker found the gap in left center for an RBI single. Sanchez followed with a two-run single to left. Rivera kept the inning going with a two-out single through the right side, and Mychko smoked one to right, just missing a diving Rivera, to make it 5-1 Illini.
Johnson led off the fourth with another infield single, then stole second. A ground out put her on third, and another grounder allowed her to come in to score, as she slid under the tag for run number six. Booker hit one to the shortstop, who tried to get the out at second but wasn't in time, then Sanchez picked up her third hit in as many at bats with an RBI single up the middle. Perkins broke things wide open with a three-run shot well over the wall in right center, to give the Illini a substantial, 10-1 lead, but it didn't end there. After an error and a fielder's choice, Repole, Johnson and Bauch hit three-straight doubles, giving Illinois a 13-1 lead before the Broncos finally closed out the frame.
Illinois sent four pinch hitters to the plate in the top of the fifth, as sophomore Dana Sullivan registered her first career hit with a single through the right side.
Needham took care of the Broncos in the bottom of the fifth, including striking out the final batter, to close out the Illini's home opener with a 13-1 victory in five innings.
"It's good to be home," said Needham. "It's always good to be home."
Around the Horn: Earlier in the day, North Dakota State defeated Saint Louis, 7-3, to open the tournament, and Omaha defeated Saint Louis, 8-0, in five innings in the second game. Omaha topped Western Michigan, 5-3, in the night cap following Illinois' game. At the end of the day, NDSU was 14-8, Saint Louis fell to 10-10, Omaha improved to 16-8, and WMU's losing streak extended to 10 games, falling to 7-18. Illinois finished the night, 13-6.
Next Up: The Fighting Illini return to action on Saturday, March 15, with a morning doubleheader against North Dakota State and Omaha at the Fighting Illini Classic. First pitch against NDSU is set for 10:30 a.m.