Illini Secure Doubleheader Sweep, 400th Program Win

Senior outfielder Nikki Simpson went 3-for-5 with a pair of triples, two runs scored and an RBI.
Senior outfielder Nikki Simpson went 3-for-5 with a pair of triples, two runs scored and an RBI.

March 16, 2012

Box Score: Illinois-Providence | Illinois-Boston U.
Interviews: Head Coach Terri Sullivan | Senior Outfielder Nikki Simpson | Junior Pitcher Jackie Guy

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The University of Illinois softball squad earned a doubleheader sweep of Providence, 3-1, and Boston University, 5-4, during the first day of the USF Invitational on Friday to secure the program's and Terri Sullivan's 400th victory as a head coach. Junior starting pitcher Jackie Guy was nearly perfect against Providence during Illinois' 3-1 victory, holding the Friars without a baserunner following the first inning. Freshman center fielder Brittany Sanchez tallied the go-ahead two-run single against Boston University while senior outfielder Nikki Simpson totaled three hits on the day, including a pair of triples split over both contests and the eventual game-winning single against Boston University.

"Players win games, not coaches, so any accolade a coach receives is because of the efforts of their players, and Donna [DiBiase], Katie [O'Connell], Danielle [Zymkowitz] and I are working with a great group this season," said Sullivan.

Game One: Illinois 3, Providence 1
Providence (5-12 overall) opened with one run in the top of the first on a single through the left side; however, the Orange and Blue responded with one of their own in the bottom of the frame to tie the contest at 1-1. Redshirt-senior left fielder Danielle Vaji led off with a walk before redshirt-junior shortstop Jessica Davis was struck by a pitch. After senior first baseman Meredith Hackett grounded into a fielder's choice - with Vaji out at third on the play - sophomore catcher Jenna Mychko drew a walk. With the bases loaded, freshman designated player Jess Perkins hit a soft ground ball toward third, scoring Davis to knot the game at 1-1.

Following the first inning, Guy was masterful in the circle, sending down the remaining 18 batters in order to hold Providence to three base runners over the entire contest - all of them in the first inning.

Illinois went ahead in the fourth frame, tallying one run to take a 2-1 advantage into the fifth. Mychko led off with a single and was replaced by sophomore pinch runner Alex Booker at first base. Three batters later, after Booker stole second base, freshman center fielder Brittany Sanchez sent a grounder toward first. Providence's Jessie Bryant was unable to come up with the hard-hit ball, allowing it to bounce down the right field line as Booker rounded third and scored.

Illinois tacked on one more run in the fifth inning. Senior right fielder Nikki Simpson led off with a triple into left field to put a runner at third with no one out. One batter later, Vaji used a sacrifice bunt to plate Simpson from third for the 3-1 lead.

"She is just playing aggressive and it is a lot about confidence in this game," Sullivan said of Simpson. "She really went to the plate with a lot of confidence today. She has had a great week and a half of practice and is really committed to helping us win. I thought her approach at the plate was great, she was aggressive and got her pitch."

Guy tossed a one-hitter to earn the victory - the third win and second one-hit performance of the season for the Buena Park, Calif., native. Guy finished with seven strikeouts against only one walk issued in the complete-game effort. Alicia Grosso took the loss for the Friars, falling to 2-6 on the year while allowing three runs on five hits and three walks while striking out three.

Game Two: Illinois 5, Boston University 4
Boston University (11-8) scored once in the top of the first inning to earn an early 1-0 advantage, using a bases-loaded walk issued to Amy Ekart to tally the first run of the game. The Terriers added two more in the following frame to extend the lead to 3-0, using a fielding error to plate the pair. Brittany Clendenny and Erica Casacci singled to open the frame before moving up one bag each on a sacrifice bunt by Jayme Mask. Chelsea O'Connor followed with a ground ball toward second, with the runs scoring after the ball bounced under Vaji's glove as the redshirt-senior shifted to field the play.

The Illini started the comeback effort with two away in the third inning. Simpson connected for a triple - the second of the day for the senior - to the center field fence before Vaji drove a two-strike single through the left side to pull the Orange and Blue within two, 3-1. Two innings later, Illinois (11-9) cut into the deficit once again. With one out in the fifth, third baseman Kelley Wedel sent a towering fly ball over the left field fence - pulling the Illini within 3-2 with the senior's first home run of the season.

The Orange and Blue took the lead in the following inning, using three runs on three hits and one walk while reaching once on an error to secure a 5-3 advantage heading into the top of the seventh. Hackett singled and was replaced by freshman pinch runner Jami Schkade at first. Mychko used a sacrifice bunt to move Schkade to second before Perkins reached on a fielding error. With Schkade on third following the fielding miscue, Sanchez connected for a two-run single through the left side, scoring both runners to put the Illini up, 4-3. Simpson followed with the eventual game-winning hit, driving a single through the left side of the infield to score Sanchez, who had moved to second during the throw home on the previous play.

The Terriers responded with a leadoff home run to left-center field from Ekart in the seventh; however, Gay bounced back immediately with two flyouts and a line out to end the contest and notch the 400th program victory.

Junior pitcher Pepper Gay improved to 8-2 on the season with the win, working a complete game while striking out four against six hits and six walks. Whitney Tuthill took the loss, falling to 2-3 this year after allowing eight hits and two walks.

The Illini continue play at the USF Invitational with a pair of Saturday contests against Massachusetts and Maryland. The Orange and Blue battle the Minutewomen at 3 p.m. CT before facing the Terrapins at 5:15 p.m. CT.