Softball Drops Series Finale With Minnesota, 14-4
March 25, 2012
URBANA, Ill. - Illini softball faltered in its Big Ten-opening series finale with the Minnesota Gophers, 14-4, on Eichelberger Field on Sunday afternoon. Senior first baseman Meredith Hackett finished the day 1-for-3 with a two-run home run and a walk, while sophomore leadoff batter Alex Booker tallied a two-hit performance and added a run scored.
"On the weekend winning the series was big," said Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan of taking two of three games with the Gophers. "The two [wins] yesterday did not come easy and we are proud of the way the team played, but today we were outplayed."
Minnesota (19-9 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) tallied first with three runs in the opening frame, a lead they would not relinquish during the game. After junior starting pitcher Pepper Gay walked the bases loaded, Madie Eckstrom tallied an RBI-single to second before Erika Smyth followed with a two-run base hit for the 3-0 advantage.
"Minnesota came out and didn't feel sorry for themselves, they swung that bat well, hit the pitches they should have well and found a way to get it done," Sullivan continued. "This is our first experience with a three-game [Big Ten] series and I think our team sees that on Sunday you have to be very focused, give that full effort and be very aggressive."
Illinois answered with two runs of its own in the bottom of the third inning, cutting the deficit to 3-2 in the process. With two outs, redshirt-senior Danielle Vaji drew a full-count walk - one of three bases on balls drawn by the Illini second baseman on the day. Hackett followed with a home run to left field after falling behind in the count, 1-2. The long ball marked Hackett's second in as many games, sixth of the season and 38th of the four-year starter's career.
However, Minnesota responded immediately with a three-run top-of-the-fourth to take a 6-2 lead. Eckstrom plated the first tally of the frame with a double to left-center before Smyth added a two-RBI single two batters later.
Illinois chipped away at the four-run deficit by scoring one each in the bottom o the fifth and sixth innings. Booker singled through the left side with one out and Vaji followed with another walk to place runners on first and second. Two batters later, senior third baseman Kelley Wedel knocked an RBI-double down the right field line to bring the Orange and Blue within three, 6-3.
One inning later, freshman designated player Jess Perkins hit a double off the base of the left-center field wall and freshman pinch hitter Jami Schkade drew a four-pitch walk to put Illini on first and second with no one out. After sophomore catcher Jenna Mychko grounded out to third base, moving both runners up one bag, senior right fielder Nikki Simpson tallied an RBI-single to third base for Illinois' fourth run of the contest.
The Gophers put the comeback attempt out of reach with eight runs in the top of the seventh inning - with five scoring as a result of three home runs - while Minnesota sent 12 batters to the plate during the frame.
All three members of the Illinois pitching staff saw time in the circle during the contest. Gay took the loss and dropped to 10-4 on the season, totaling 2 2/3 innings of work while allowing five runs - three earned - on five hits and six walks, striking out four. Junior Jackie Guy followed with four frames of work in relief of Gay, allowing five runs on five hits and two walks, also setting down four via the strikeout. Freshman Shelese Arnold recorded one out in the seventh while hitting two batters and walking one, being charged with four runs - one earned - as Gay subbed back into the game to close the frame and allowed a three-run homer, with two runs being charged to Arnold.
Alissa Koch totaled the win for Minnesota, improving to 5-2 on the year with five innings of four-run softball, allowing five hits and five walks while striking out five. Kelsey Kimminau picked up the save with one hit allowed and two walks issued in two innings of work. Kimminau is awarded the save as the freshman entered the contest in the sixth inning with two runners on, no one out and Minnesota leading, 6-3.
Illinois (15-11, 2-1) continues its season with a midweek non-conference game against Indiana State (11-13, 0-6 MVC) at 6 p.m. on Eichelberger Field on Wednesday, March 28. The game with the Sycamores will be part of $1 Drink Night, with beverages purchased at the concession standing costing fans $1 each throughout the evening.
Game Notes: Head coach Terri Sullivan's 400th victory was celebrated following the National Anthem, with Illinois Director of Athletics Mike Thomas presenting Sullivan with a celebratory game ball at home plate in recognition of the victory, which was also the 400th for the Illinois softball program ... Hackett's home run in the third inning was the 38th of the senior's career, moving her past Shanna Diller (37) for the second-most in program history (Angelena Mexicano, 51) ... Wedel's double was the team-leading eighth of the season for the Anaheim, Calif., native, and 30th of her career, making her one of only 10 Illini to ever record 30 or more doubles in their time with the Orange and Blue ... Vaji reached base in eight of her 11 plate appearances (.727 OBP) on the weekend, earning a .500 batting average (3-for-6) while drawing five walks ... Booker is 6-for-11 (.545) over the previous four games, improving the sophomore's season average to .303 in the process.