Illini Defeat SLU, 6-4, to Claim Fighting Illini Invite Title
March 16, 2013
Urbana, Ill. - The University of Illinois softball team captured the first ever Fighting Illini Invitational title this afternoon with a 6-4 victory over Saint Louis University. The Illini went 3-0 in the round robin portion of the tournament on Friday and Saturday, and due to the cold weather conditions, all four teams agreed to end the tournament there, rather than play the championship bracket that had been originally scheduled.
The Illini went undefeated on the weekend to claim the tournament title, finishing the weekend with a 10-12 record. Saint Louis finished second, going 2-1, and now sits at 10-9. Western Michigan defeated Loyola in what became the consolation game, going 1-2 to finish the weekend 9-16, and the Ramblers went 0-3 to drop to 10-9 on the year.
"We were really resilient," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan, "and I honestly believe that our previous tournaments have prepared us for this weekend. Every game we were at was a hard-fought battle and we started hitting the ball a little bit better and hitting the gaps better, and today I think we had a great win; we had seven different people in the lineup doing some great things for us offensively. "
For the second straight game, the Illini lineup put together 11 hits, batting .423 with three extra-base hits. Jess Perkins, Jessica Davis and Katie Repole each went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Perkins doubled and scored, while Davis had a double and a home run, the 23rd dinger of her career and first of 2013. Jade Smith also collected two hits, getting aboard safely in all three at-bats and scoring twice.
"Defensively, we had a lot of people step up and make big plays," said Sullivan. "Role players are really key for this team, and in winning this tournament, I think that was a big part. Our pinch hitters, our pinch runners, our relief pitching, small things, really worked well for us today. I thought we executed well and moved the ball around a bit, and hung in there, and I'm really excited that this team is moving forward in the right direction."
Pepper Gay registered her sixth win of the season in the circle, tossing the complete seven innings. She allowed just three earned runs (four total) on four hits and seven walks, striking out seven batters. Brianna Lore allowed the first four Illini runs on eight hits and two walks in five innings, and Elizabeth Everingham gave up the final two runs on three hits and a walk in the sixth inning.
"Winning at home is a good thing and we definitely need to win at home," said Davis. "Right now we need to shift our momentum to winning more games and getting things going, because we are very talented. Winning at home is a momentum builder and confidence builder."
Davis led off the bottom of the second with a solo homer to the flags in straightaway center. Katie Repole followed with a single that dropped in down the line in shallow left. Sami Estill, pinch running, picked up her first career stolen base, then moved over to third on a ground out. Jade Smith hustled down to first on a bunt, then swiped second to put a pair in scoring position for pinch hitter Nicole Tobon. During her at bat, Estill sped home on a passed ball, then Tobon walked. Alex Booker slapped a bouncer back towards the pitcher, who could just barely reach it above her head but was unable to field it, for an RBI single which made it 3-0 Illini.
"JD gave us a really big lift with that first home run of the game," said Sullivan. "It was a shot, and that just does a lot for a team, when you see your teammate cross home plate with a home run. I think that jumpstarted our offense, a big hit like that."
Remeny Perez began the third inning with a single through the left side. Davis' hot bat rocketed a double to the wall in left center. However, a base-running mistake on the next play caught the pair in a run down, as Perez was thrown out heading back to third, after diverting attention from Davis who was stuck between second and third.
Gay hit Friedman with the third pitch of the fifth inning. Van Nostrand grounded back to the pitcher, but Gay's throw to second was low and Friedman was called safe. Brand walked to load the bases, still no outs. Gay struck out Biggs for the first out, but Everingham tabbed an RBI groundout to put up an unearned run. Gay then struck out Huffman for the final out, escaping the jam with just one run allowed, Illini still ahead, 3-1.
Perkins led off the bottom of the fifth with a standup double to right. Davis moved her to third with a grounder, and Repole dropped in a two-out single to right center to pick up the RBI, putting Illinois back up, 4-1.
Laura Bohning drilled a pinch hit solo dinger over the wall in left to start the top of the sixth. However, three hits in the bottom half of the inning moved the Illini ahead, 6-2. Smith got it started with an infield single. She stole second, and Stephanie Cuevas laid down the sacrifice bunt to move her to third. Booker walked and stole second, and Sanchez dropped in an RBI single to left. Perkins then drilled a line drive to center, scoring Booker.
Alyson Brand drew a full count walk to start the top of the seventh. Kelsey Biggs then drilled an RBI double to left center, as pinch runner Brungardt came all the way around to score from first. Gay struck out Everingham and got Roback to fly out for the second out, but Bohning then hit a liner to the gap in left center. Booker dove and got a glove on it, but couldn't come up with the catch, and the ricochet led to an RBI double, making it 6-4. Gay then bared down and struck out Buschjost for the final out, crowning the Illini as the champions of the first Fighting Illini Invitational.
The Illini return to action on Wednesday, March 20, for a neutral site double header against top-10 rival Missouri. The games will be held at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., with the first game slated to begin at 4 p.m. CT.