Jess Perkins went 4-for-9 with five RBI, coming through with huge hits in both games.
Urbana, Ill. - The University of Illinois softball team trailed 2-0 to Loyola with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, but clutch hits by Jess Perkins, Remeny Perez and Jami Schkade led the Illini to a 3-2 victory in extra innings in their home opener at the Fighting Illini Invitational. Illinois followed with a 6-2 victory over Western Michigan, to complete a perfect first day at Eichelberger Field. Saint Louis won the first two games of the day, to tie the Illini for tournament lead. At the end of the first day, Illinois is 9-12, Loyola falls to 10-8, Saint Louis improves to 10-8 and WMU falls to 8-16.
"Everyone on this team played a significant role in the two wins today," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "Our reserves were big in critical situations."
As a team, Illinois batted .313 on the day, while holding its opponents to just .211. On the base paths, the Illini were 4-for-4, with two steals each by Alex Booker and Kylie Johnson, while neither opponent attempted a steal off the Orange and Blue battery.
The Illini had an outfield assist from all three positions, throwing out two Loyola runners at the plate. The Orange and Blue batters were equally clutch, as Perez and Perkins each came through with three two-out RBI.
"We were resilient in game one and Remeny had an outstanding at-bat to tie it up under pressure. We have been in several one-run games this season. Jackie (Guy) gave us some key innings of solid relief pitching, and Jade (Smith) threw out a runner at the plate, along with her fellow outfielders Booker and Sanchez."
"In game two, Nicole (Tobon)'s bunt and Sami (Estill)'s aggressive baserunning helped us grab some momentum. Linnea Detrick was a great leader behind the plate, working with Shelese Arnold in her first start. I was proud of how Shelese pitched after waiting all day to get out there; she showed maturity.
"On the day, I thought Perkins and Jami (Schkade) carried us defensively."
Game 1: Saint Louis 8, Loyola 2 | Box Score (PDF)
The Billikens used a seven-run top of the first to cruise past Loyola, 8-2, in the opening game of the Fighting Illini Invitational. Lindsay Friedman went deep for two runs in the first, and Alyson Brand went 2-for-2 with a walk, a run and an RBI. Loyola's leadoff batter Brooke Andresen tallied two of the Ramblers' three hits, and scored a run in the bottom of the first.
Game 2: Saint Louis 4, Western Michigan 3 | Box Score (PDF)
The Broncos had several scoring threats early, but it was the Billikens who got on the board first, putting up three runs in the bottom of the fourth. Western Michigan got one back in the top of the fifth, but Saint Louis replied with a run in the bottom half. The Broncos put together a two-out rally in the top of the sixth, hitting back-to-back RBI doubles, to close the gap to one, 4-3. Loren Nagy led off the top of the seventh with a single through the left side. The Broncos got the tying run to third, but Lore got a big called strike three to pick up the save with a 4-3 SLU victory.
Game 3: Illinois 3, Loyola 2 (9 innings) | Box Score (PDF)
Alex Booker had a great all-around performance, going 2-for-3 with a walk, a sacrifice bunt and an outfield assist in a play at the plate. Perkins went 2-for-5 with the game-tying run and the game-winning RBI, and Perez hit a two-out, two-run, game-tying double in the seventh. Schkade led off the ninth inning with a single and scored the game-winning run.
The Ramblers put together eight hits in the game, but scored just two runs, committing key base-running errors on well-timed hits. For the second straight game, Andresen led the Loyola offense, going 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Pepper Gay started the game in the circle. She pitched through the first batter of the fourth, before being relieved by Jackie Guy for the remainder of regulation. After four innings for Guy, Gay returned in the top of the eighth, pitching two perfect innings and tabbing the win. Gay allowed just one hit but five walks and one earned run over five innings, striking out two; and Guy gave up seven hits without a walk, striking out two in one-run ball. Brittany Gardner struck out 12 batters in the full 8.1 innings, allowing nine hits, four walks and three runs in the loss.
The Illini had leadoff singles in the first and second innings, but it was Loyola who scored first in the top of the third. Engelkens led off with a walk. Andresen moved her over with a sacrifice bunt, and Balzano followed with a walk. Gay struck out Moore on full count for the second out, but a hit batter loaded the bases, and Pasquale ripped a liner to left field for the Rambers' first hit of the game. Engelkens scored, and Balzano rounded third behind her. Booker got to the ball quickly and threw in to Perkins who fired to Jenna Mychko at the plate, smoothly catching Balzano for the third out, to hold Loyola to just one run.
Korth led off the top of the sixth with a single to left. Shaffer dropped in a sacrifice bunt, but was safe as Mychko tried to get the lead runner but was not in time. Jenkins singled to center, but Jade Smith fired a missile to Mychko to get Korth at the plate. Mychko then threw down to Schkade to catch pinch runner Bell between second and third, and Perkins laid down the tag on the double play. Engelkens beat out an infield single to make it first and third. Andresen then ripped a single to right. Sanchez fired across to Perkins at third to catch Englekens for the third out, but not before Jenkins came in to score to put the Ramblers ahead, 2-0.
It did not look good for the Illini, down to their last strike with Johnson at first. Sitting on a 2-2 count, Perkins dumped one into right field to keep the Illini alive and make it first and third with two outs. Perez followed, fouling off five pitches on a full count before drilling it to the wall in left for a clutch two-out, two-run double, to tie the score at 2-2 and send the game into extras.
Gay, who pitched the first three innings, returned to the circle for the top of the eighth. She threw a perfect inning, but Gardner followed with a 1-2-3 bottom half. The Illini retired the Ramblers in order again in the top of the ninth, then Schkade stepped up to the plate to start the bottom of the ninth. The second baseman led off with a single through the left side. Booker put her on second with a sacrifice bunt, and Johnson made it first and third with a bunt single. Perkins, who scored the tying run in the seventh, approached the plate, and after falling behind 0-2, drilled an RBI single to center to drive Schkade home and capture the Illini's first walkoff victory of the season, 3-2.
"This was one of the first times we've come from behind this season," said Sullivan, "and I think that really shows the resiliency of ourteam and that we've learned from previous outings, and that's what you want to see from your team; that you get better and you start to win those one-run games and you know that the game's not over until the last out."
Game 4: Illinois 6, Western Michigan 2 | Box Score (PDF)
Illinois used consistent offense and a quality start by Shelese Arnold to fly past Western Michigan, 6-2, in the final game of day 1. Perkins kept up her hot bat, going 2-for-4 with a double and four RBI, and Katie Repole was aboard four times, with two hits, a walk and an HBP. As a team, the Illini put together 11 hits, while holding the Broncos to just four.
Arnold threw a solid seven innings, allowing four hits, two runs, one earned, and three walks while striking out three to pick up her fourth win of the year. Allyson Kus pitched the full game for the Broncos, giving up 11 hits, three walks and six runs, striking out three.
The Illini put together an early threat in the top of the second, loading the bases with nobody out on two walks and an error. Linnea Detrick then ripped the ball to the left side in what often might have gone through, but Pigozzi made a great snag and fired home to get Tobon at the plate. She collided with the catcher, leading to a runner's interference call, pulling Repole from the base paths at third for a second out. Danielle Trezzo then grounded out to third to end the inning.
Schkade rejuvenated the Illini offense in the top of the third, leading off with a single up the middle off the diving shortstop's glove. Booker traded places with her at first on a fielder's choice, then snuck over to second before the play was dead. Johnson singled and stole second to put a pair in scoring position for Perkins, who hammered it up the middle for her third clutch hit of the day, putting Illinois on top 1-0.
The Broncos took advantage of two Illini errors in the bottom of the third, as Loren Nagy drove in an unearned run on a bases loaded single to left, tying the score, 1-1.
Katie Repole was hit by the second pitch of the fourth inning. Sami Estill pinch ran for her, and made it to third on a perfect bunt single down the first base line by Nicole Tobon. Detrick hit a long fly ball to center, driving in Estill on the sacrifice fly, to put the Illini back on top, 2-1.
Perez extended the Illinois lead in the top of the fifth, hitting a solo dinger over the wall in right for her second home run in three games.
Jessica Davis kept it going with a one-out single in the sixth. Schkade singled to center, and Smith loaded the bases with a blooper to left center. Perkins then came up to the plate, and drilled a bases-clearing double to right center, putting the Illini comfortably ahead, 6-1.
The Broncos loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the sixth on two walks and a single by pinch hitter Shepeck. Lynch roped one to the right side, but Schkade made a huge diving stop to get the out at first. Patterson scored from third on the play, but that was all the Broncos would get, as Arnold got Palmer to ground out to short for the final out.
WMU drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the seventh, but that was the end of the Bronco offense, as Illinois won by a final score of 6-2.
The Fighting Illini Invitational continues on Saturday with the final two round robin games, followed by a pair of semifinal matchups. Loyola will face Western Michigan at 11 a.m., then Illinois will take on Saint Louis at roughly 1:30 p.m. in a battle for the No. 1 seed.
The winner of the first game (#3) will take on the loser of the second game (#2) in a semifinal at 4 p.m., and the remaining two teams will play at 6:30 p.m. GameTracker will be provided for all four games, with the links to the semifinal games becoming available following game two.
For all tournament updates, visit the Tournament Central page at: http://bit.ly/FI-SBInvite and follow @IlliniSoftball on Twitter.