Illini Stunned Late, Bounce Back in Game Two for DH Split

Jenna Mychko led off the second inning against NDSU with her first home run since 2012.
Jenna Mychko led off the second inning against NDSU with her first home run since 2012.

March 15, 2014

NDSU Box Score (html) | Omaha Box Score (html) | NDSU Photo Gallery | Omaha Photo Gallery

Urbana, Ill. - The Illinois softball team carried a three-run lead into the top of the seventh inning against North Dakota State, but a six-run seventh frame pushed the Bison past Illinois, 7-4, in the first game of the day at the Fighting Illini Classic. The Illini did not all the tough ending to affect them in game two, cruising past a tough Omaha squad, 6-1, in their final outing of the weekend. With the split, the Illini finish 2-1 at the classic, and head into Big Ten play with a 14-7 record. Omaha heads home with a 16-9 record, and after falling to Western Michigan later in the day, North Dakota State finished the weekend 16-9 as well.

"I think it was a productive weekend," said second baseman Allie Bauch, who led the Illini with six hits on the weekend, including a leadoff home run against NDSU. "We learned how to come back from a loss. The seventh inning obviously wasn't what we wanted. We haven't really experienced that before, so it was good to come back after a hard loss.

"It was a little wake up call. We expected all wins this weekend, so we were a little disappointed in that loss, but you can't focus on it too much."

"I think we learned a lot this weekend," said classmate Kylie Johnson, who had RBI singles in both games. "We won big, we came back from a loss, and I think it was important to learn from that first loss and be able to come back here and win a good game.

"We kind of shut down after the first couple innings, and I think that we learned that we need to keep scoring and keep winning innings.

"You have to learn from (a loss), but you also have to put it behind you and focus on the next win. Omaha is a tough team, so it was good to come out and be able to re-focus from that last game."

Every starter in the Illini lineup had at least one hit, RBI and run on the weekend, with six batters hitting at least .300 to go along with four doubles and three home runs.

"We needed to bear down a little bit and make some adjustments at the plate and continue to carry out our game plan," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "We executed well, and you saw some big RBI hits from really most everybody in our lineup. And that's key for this team. Our pinch runners that came in today were huge for us. We're excited that every one on our team wants to have a role. You have to play hard for seven innings, and play aggressive, and respect the game that much that go hard the whole way."

Bison Stun Illini with Six-Run Seventh | North Dakota State 7, Illinoi 4 | Box Score (PDF) | Photo Gallery

Illinois held a steady lead throughout the game and headed into the top of the seventh riding a 4-1 advantage, but North Dakota State strung together five hits including two home runs to put up six runs in the final frame, all before recording an out, to shock the Illini with a 7-4 victory.

Both teams used the long ball to take the lead, as Allie Bauch and Jenna Mychko led off the first and second innings, respectively, with solo home runs, while Jenna Isbel led off the top of the seventh with a homer and Alex Sobrero put NDSU on top with a three-run shot later in the inning.

Bauch led the Illini at the plate, going 3-for-4 with the home run and two RBI, while Mychko also had an RBI single to go with her first home run of the year. Jess Perkins reached base all four times, going 1-for-1 with three walks and a run, and Remeny Perez and Alex Booker both singled and walked.

Alex Sobrero was the hero for the Bison, going 3-for-4 with a double, a three-run homer and two runs scored. Logan Moreland was 2-for-3 with a walk and a run, and Amanda Grable hit a two-run single in the seventh.

Shelese Arnold started for the Illini, and left the game after allowing a leadoff homer to Isbel in the top of the seventh. Brandi Needham (8-3) replaced her, looking for her second career save with a 4-2 lead, but allowed four runs on three hits, including the go-ahead home run, without recording an out. Arnold then returned to finish out the inning, totaling three runs on seven hits and a walk with three strikeouts over a total of seven innings.

"Brandi's been pitching well all year and finishing games, so we don't regret (putting her in), because Brandi's been a leader on the mound all year," said Arnold. "We just learned from that; Brandi was a leader and bounced back in the second game. It was really awesome and really big of her, being a freshman."

Krista Menke got the nod for NDSU, but lasted just two-and-a-third innings after allowed four runs, three earned, on five hits and three walks, striking out two. Tabby Bayers (3-3) took over in the third and was lights-out in relief, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out four over four and two-thirds scoreless innings, picking up the win.

For the third time this season, Allie Bauch led off the first inning with a solo home run, giving Illinois a rapid 1-0 advantage.

Arnold set the Bison down in order, then Mychko mimicked Bauch with a solo shot to lead off the bottom of the second. Katie Repole reached second on a throwing error and was replaced by pinch runner Alyssa Gunther, making her first career appearance for the Illini after suffering a hand injury in January. Johnson bunted her over to third, and Bauch beat out a single to short to drive in Gunther, making it 3-0 Illini.

With two outs in the top of the third, Sobrero tabbed the Bison's first hit with a double to the gap in left center. Moreland singled through the right side, but a hard throw by Johnson kept Sobrero on third. However, Cheyenne Garcia followed with a hard-hit single to right, driving in Sobrero to chip away at Illinois' lead, 3-1.

The Illini got the run back in the bottom of the third, as Perkins started the inning off with a walk. Ruby Rivera bunted her to second, and Mychko ripped an RBI single down the left field line to make it 4-1 Illinois.

Tabby Bayers replaced Menke in the circle with two outs in the third, and shut down the Illini offense over the remainder of the game, but the Bison still trailed, 4-1.

Down to their final three outs, the Bison sent Jenna Isbel to the plate to lead off the top of the seventh. She drove the second pitch of the inning deep over the wall in center to plate NDSU's second run and chase Arnold from the circle. Needham hit Enriquez with the first pitch she threw, then Stifter singled to right to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After fouling off five pitches, Sobrero drove a 3-2 pitch out of the park to put the Bison on top, 5-4. Moreland followed with a single through the left side, bringing Arnold back to the circle. A fielder's choice and a hit batter loaded the bases, and Grable then smacked a single up the middle to drive in a pair of runs to pad NDSU's lead, 7-4.

Despite entering the top of the seventh with a three-run lead, the Illini headed to the bottom of the seventh with a three-run deficit. Perkins drew a one-out walk to reach base for the fourth time in the game, but that was it for the Illini, as they fell, 7-4.

"I think a big thing is they just wanted it more," said Bauch. "We knocked in a lot of runs at the beginning of the game, but after that we were silent. They were silent the whole game, but towards the end of the game they were picking up. It seemed like they just wanted it more. Our seventh inning wasn't really as aggressive as it should've been, so I think that's what set the difference."

"At this level, we certainly have to play until that last out of the game," said Sullivan. "I'll take that lesson now. We see our team as always growing. I don't know if they were stunned that they lost that game. You have to learn how to take punches and give them back and how to play in the moment.

"On to the next one. You have to have a short term memory with your performance. There's really no time for them to feel sorry for themselves.

Illini Bounce Back to Top Omaha, 6-1 | Box Score (PDF) | Photo Gallery

After a rough seventh inning against the Bison, Illinois settled in quickly against Omaha, cruising to a 6-1 victory over the Mavericks in the pair's first-ever meeting. Freshman Brandi Needham (9-3) recovered to toss a complete-game victory, allowing just one run on three hits and three walks, while striking out four.

"I was really just zoning in and trying to keep the ball off the plate and hit my corners," said Needham. "I think I did really well executing my game plan.

"You just have to turn the page. It's a new game. You just have to block it all out and keep going."

The Illini were balanced at the plate, with every batter reaching base at least once. Alex Booker went 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Ruby Rivera had an RBI double and a run. Katie Repole singled and drove in two, while Jess Perkins walked and scored twice. Alyssa Gunther and Kylie Johnson both tabbed stolen bases in the game, and Gunther also registered a run as a pinch runner. Johnson and Allie Bauch both finished the game 1-for-3 with an RBI.

Needham limited the Bison to just three hits in the game, but one of those was a solo home run by Amber Lutmer in the top of the first. Lizzie Noble and Lia Mancuso tallied the remaining two hits, both singles, while Noble and Lutmer both drew walks, along with Mara Eeman.

Dana Elsasser (13-3) tossed the full six innings, allowing six runs, four earned, on six hits and four walks, striking out five.

Needham struck out the first two batters of the game, but Amber Lutmer drove one out to left to give Omaha an early 1-0 lead.

The Illini tied the score in the bottom of the third, as Repole led off the inning with a walk. Bauch singled up the middle, and a ground out moved the pair into scoring position with two down. Booker used her speed to beat out a single to short, driving in pinch runner Danielle Trezzo to knot the score at one. Brittany Sanchez followed with a liner up the middle, but pitcher Eslsasser got a glove on it to knock it down and made the throw to first just in time to keep Illinois from taking over the lead.

Perkins led off the fourth with a walk, her fourth of the day, and Rivera drove an 0-2 pitch to the gap in left center to give the Illini the lead. Mychko grounded to the first baseman, but as Rivera danced off third, Lutmer looked her back and Mychko snuck around her to reach safely. Gunther picked up her first career stolen base as a pinch runner, then Johnson drove in Rivera with a little nubber towards third. Bauch picked up another RBI with a sacrifice fly to deep center field, as the Illini headed to the fifth with a 4-1 lead.

Two errors and a failed attempt to get the lead runner on a sacrifice bunt loaded the bases for the Illini in the bottom of the fifth, and Repole ripped a liner up the middle to drive in two and put Illinois further ahead, 6-1.

"I think just overall we played better," said Sullivan. "We put together a quality game against a quality team. You have to hate the taste of losing and come back to do things better the next time out.

"Ruby played a terrific shortstop as usual, and I thought in that game Booker made some key catches that our team fed off of. Any time you see a diving catch, you get a little bit of momentum and enthusiasm to get out there offensively, and then Brandi started having quick innings that allowed our offense to get going.

"I'm really, really proud about how they came back in that second game against UNO."

Next Up: Illinois opens Big Ten play at home next weekend with a three-game series against Iowa. The Illini begin the series on Friday, March 21, at 6 p.m., then host the Hawkeyes at 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.