Illini Split DH, Take Series Finale with Extra-Inning Dramatics

Brittany Sanchez hit two RBI doubles and her first career home run in the doubleheader.
Brittany Sanchez hit two RBI doubles and her first career home run in the doubleheader.

March 22, 2014

Box Score

Urbana, Ill. - The University of Illinois softball team had a tough start to the Big Ten season, but came out on top at the end of the day, defeating the University of Iowa, 4-3, in eight innings in the finale of the three-game series. Iowa clinched the series win earlier in the day, outlasting Illinois, 10-7, in a battle-of-the-bats, but it was Illini pitching that would win out in the series finale, as freshman Brandi Needham picked up her 10th victory in the complete game performance. Following Big Ten opening weekend, Illinois is 15-9 (1-2 Big Ten), while Iowa is 7-14 (2-1 Big Ten).

"We didn't play very well overall this weekend, but I think that last game in extra innings, being down again, shows our resiliency, and these types of games are what it's about in the Big Ten," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "Two extra-inning games on the week, we had a game where we didn't hit very well, one where we didn't pitch well, but in the third game our backs were against the wall, and Brandi came through. She had a real sense of purpose out there, and great team play won it in the end with Booker's RBI."

The Illini put together 14 hits in the first game, tied for third-most on the season, but Iowa took apart the Illini pitching staff, putting up 10 runs while scoring in five different innings to top the Orange and Blue, 10-7. The Illini sent the tying run to the plate in both the sixth and seventh innings, but they were unable to complete the comeback, dropping their second-straight game to the Hawkeyes.

A costly error led to a pair of unearned runs in the top of the first to begin game three trailing 2-0 before even coming up to bat, but the Fighting Illini never gave up, tying the game in the bottom of the sixth and winning the series finale in extras due to strong offense by Allie Bauch, Brittany Sanchez and Alex Booker.

Booker proved to be a very hard out in the series, reaching base in one way or another in all but two plate appearances on the weekend, opening Big Ten play by hitting .600 with a double, four RBI, two walks and two runs scored. She went 5-for-6 over the first two games, and extended her team-leading hitting streak to 14 games in the series finale.

"I was just trying to open Big Ten season strong," said Booker of her performance on the weekend. "I wasn't really caring about who the opponent was, but just trying to get some wins and trying to get the Big Ten season started off strong."

Brittany Sanchez had a tremendous day at the plate, slugging two RBI doubles in game one, then crushing her first career home run in the nightcap.

"It was really exciting after not having such a great day yesterday," said Sanchez. "I just focused on seeing the ball, and I feel like I actually did that today, so it was nice to hit the ball hard and then it finally happened."

The Illini had some new faces in the lineup this weekend, as Danielle Trezzo tabbed her first career hit as a pinch hitter in the first game, earning herself her first start of the season in the final game, getting the nod at third base. Brandi Needham also hit in the offensive lineup for the first time since opening weekend, while Jess Perkins started both games at first base.

"We really believe in everyone, 1 thru 17, and we always tell people to be ready," said Sullivan. "Sometimes a player just needs a break to get back on track, and people that have been put in have obviously practiced. That's how you earn your way; it's what you do at practice. We needed to shake things up a little bit, but they are a real together team. They all understand that when they're called upon they need to be ready."

Hawkeyes Outlast Illini in All-Out Slugfest | Iowa 10, Illinois 7 | Box Score (PDF)

The Illinois offense put together seven runs on 14 hits, including six for extra bases, but Iowa out-slugged the Illini, claiming the series with a 10-7 victory in the second game of the weekend. Kylie Johnson led all batters by going 4-for-4 with two runs and a stolen base, while Jenna Mychko was a triple shy of the cycle, going 3-for-4 with a double and a home run. Iowa could not get Alex Booker out, as she was 2-for-2 with a double, two walks, a run and two RBI. Brittany Sanchez hit a pair of RBI doubles and scored a run, while Jess Perkins ripped her first career triple to drive in the first run of the game.

Three Hawkeyes had two hits in the game, led by Brianna Luna, who was 2-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and three runs scored. Megan Blank was 2-for-3 with a triple and four RBI, and Whitney Repole hit 2-for-4 with a walk and a run. Kayla Massey homered for the second straight game, while Michelle Zoeller and Holly Hoffman both doubled.

The Illini used all three pitchers in the game, led off by Shelese Arnold. She allowed two runs on three hits in the top of the first, and was then replaced by Jade Vecvanags (1-1). The rookie gave up four earned runs on three hits and three walks in the second, leading Arnold to return to the circle for the third inning. In total, Arnold allowed six runs, five earned, on eight hits and three walks with a strikeout over five innings. Brandi Needham closed out the game for the Illini, facing just three batters in the top of the seventh, hitting the leadoff hitter, but getting the next Hawkeye to ground into a double play.

Iowa hurler Shayla Starkenburg (3-2) went the distance for the Hawkeyes, allowing seven runs on 14 hits and three walks with five strikeouts, but her offense picked her up as she captured her third win of the year.

Iowa wasted no time in the top of first, loading the bases with two singles and a walk, then scoring two on a single to right by Blank. Arnold then buckled down, striking out Zoeller and getting Massey to fly into an inning-ending double play to finish out the top of the first without allowing any additional runs.

The Illini tied the score in the bottom of the first with a two-out rally started by a single from Booker. Perkins ripped her first career triple to the corner in right, and Ruby Rivera drove her in with a single up the middle to knot the score at two.

Vecvanags came in to pitch in the top of the second, but soon loaded the bases with a walk, a double and another walk. Luna then put the Hawkeyes back on top with a sacrifice fly to right. Iowa tacked on another run on an RBI single by Erickson, but Sanchez gunned Navarro out at the plate trying to score from second for the second out. However, Blank drove in two more on a triple down the right field line, before the Illini finally got the third out, trailing 6-2.

Arnold returned to throw a scoreless top of the third, but Iowa added an unearned run in the fourth, as Luna walked then made it safely second due to an off-target throw by Rivera. She advanced to third on another fielder's choice, then scored as part of a double steal that saw Erickson thrown out at second, to make it 7-2 Iowa.

Mychko led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run to left, her second of the season. Johnson beat out an infield single, then stole second, and Sanchez drove her in with a double to left center to chip away at the Iowa lead, 7-4.

Massey replied with a solo homer in the top of the fifth to put Iowa back up, 8-4. The Hawkeyes extended their lead further in the top of the sixth with some small ball, executing a double steal and a sacrifice fly to make it 10-4.

The Illini cut the Iowa lead in half in the bottom of the sixth, started off by a pinch hit single by Danielle Trezzo. Johnson followed with her third hit of the game, and Sanchez then ripped her second RBI double of the day to score Trezzo. Booker followed with a two-run double to center to cut the deficit to three, 10-7.

Needham came in in the top of the seventh and faced just three batters, as the Illini defense turned its school-record-tying third double play of the game to clear the bases of a leadoff hit batsman, but Illinois still had work to do.

Mychko led off the bottom of the seventh with a double, and Johnson hit a one-out single to shallow left to bring the tying run to the plate for the second-straight inning. However, the Illinois offense was unable to complete the comeback, falling by a final score of 10-7.

Illini Claim Series Finale With Extra-Inning Heroics | Illinois 4, Iowa 3 (8 inn.) | Box Score (PDF)

Iowa capitalized on a costly Illinois error in the top of the first to score two unearned runs, but the Illini fought back with the help of a home run by Brittany Sanchez and an RBI double by Jess Perkins to tie the score in the bottom of the sixth, and Allie Bauch scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth, driven in by Alex Booker, to take the series finale, 4-3.

Sanchez and Perkins were both 2-for-3 with an RBI in the game, as Sanchez crushed her first home run, while Perkins ripped a key RBI double with two outs in the sixth. Allie Bauch doubled in the eighth and scored two runs, including the game-winner, and Alex Booker collected Illinois' remaining hit, scored, and drove in the go-ahead run.

The Hawkeyes narrowly out-hit the Illini, 7-6, led by Holly Hoffman, who went 2-for-3. Brianna Luna and Kayla Massey both singled and scored in the top of the first, while Whitney Repole slugged her first home run of the season to put Iowa back on top in the fifth inning.

Brandi Needham (10-4) captured her 10th victory of the season, tossing the full eight innings and allowing just one earned run, the solo homer by Repole, on seven hits and three walks, striking out six. Kayla Massey (3-9), gave up four runs, three earned, on six hits and a walk with three strikeouts over seven-and-a-third.

The Hawkeyes scored a pair of unearned runs in the top of the first, as Luna and Massey singled, and Blank grounded out to first. Perkins went for the double play, but her throw to second was off line and careened into left field, allowing both base runners to score.

Brittany Sanchez got one back in the bottom of the first, ripping a line drive over the wall left center for the first home run of her career.

Trezzo looked to tie the score in the bottom of the second, ripping a gapper to right center with Rivera on second, but RF Luna made a spectacular diving catch to rob her of a hit and turn in an inning-ending double play.

Booker singled to the right side with one out in the fourth to extend her hitting streak to 14 games. Perkins made it first and third with a gapper to right center, and Rivera tied the game with a sacrifice fly to right.

The game did not remain tied for long, as Whitney Repole led off the top of the fifth with a solo homer to center.

Illinois knotted the score in the bottom of the sixth, as Bauch reached on an error by the first baseman, and Sanchez laid down a sacrifice bunt. Perkins then ripped a two-out RBI double to right center to even the score at three.

The score remained tied through the end of the seventh, sending the game into extra innings for the second time in the series. The Hawkeyes had a runner in scoring position with two outs in the top of the eighth, thanks to a leadoff walk by Kayla Massey, but Needham battled through an 11-pitch at-bat to strike out Zoeller and keep the Hawkeyes from taking the lead.

Bauch was inches away from ending the game with one out in the bottom of the eighth, ripping a double off the top of the wall in right center. Sanchez laced a single to the right side, but second baseman Claire Fritsch made a diving stop to keep the ball from getting through to the outfield, forcing Bauch to hold up at third.

"Allie had a big hit to lead off the inning so I wanted to move her over or push it through," said Sanchez, "so I knew I had to bring it to the right side to at least try to score her. She gave me a pitch inside and I did that."

Booker then came through with a grounder to the right side, and Bauch made a perfect slide to avoid the tag at the plate, scoring the game-winning run to defeat Iowa, 4-3.

"I definitely think getting that extra-innings win is  important," said Booker. This week we've got tough opponents, with Missouri and Minnesota coming up, so it's important to stay strong and bring momentum into the next week."

Next Up: Illinois travels to St. Charles, Mo., on Tuesday, March 25, to take on nationally-ranked Missouri in a neutral-site doubleheader at Lindenwood University. Game one will begin at 3 p.m. CT. Illinois will play as the visitor in both games.