Needham Blanks No. 16 Tigers as Illini Split with Mizzou

Brandi Needham tabbed her third career shutout in game one.
Brandi Needham tabbed her third career shutout in game one.

March 26, 2014

Game 1 Box Score (html) | Game 2 Box Score (html)

St. Charles, Mo. - The University of Illinois took on No. 16/19 Missouri Wednesday in a neutral-site doubleheader at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. Fighting for border bragging rights, neither team could come away with the sweep, as the pair of neighboring foes split on the night. Illinois blanked the Tigers, 3-0, in the first game, behind a five-hit gem from freshman Brandi Needham, then led 3-0 midway through the second game, but a two-out rally by Missouri in the bottom of the fifth helped the Tigers top the Illini, 9-6, in game two, securing the DH split. At then end of the night, Illinois moved to 16-10 (1-2 Big Ten), and Missouri became 23-8 (2-4 SEC).

"We played a very complete game in the first one today," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "I was most impressed with the mental side of our game. We were highly focused pitch-by-pitch, composed, and showed a toughness needed at this point in the season. Brandi was outstanding, and our defense was sound. Kylie and Allie have been igniting us, and Perk and Crash (Repole) stepped up.

"In game two, I also liked how we came out and played aggressive and together. They put together one very tough two-out hitting performance. We have to be better with two outs. However, we were seeing the ball well and kept fighting; that's how we brought that tying run to the plate in the 7th.

"Our subs came in and played well, which is critical at this point as well."

Needham Blanks Tigers in Series Opener | Illinois 3, Missouri 0 | Box Score (PDF)

Brandi Needham hurled a complete-game shutout, and a two-out, two-run double by Jess Perkins helped lead the Illini past No. 16 Missouri, 3-0, in the game one of the doubleheader.

Allie Bauch went 2-for-4 in the leadoff spot, Remeny Perez and Jess Perkins both doubled, and Alex Booker and Jenna Mychko tabbed the remaining two Illinois hits. Perkins put the Illini ahead in the top of the third, driving in Kylie Johnson and Brittany Sanchez with a two-out double, and Katie Repole added to the Illini lead in the top of the sixth with a sacrifice fly, scoring Mychko.

Taylor Gadbois went 2-for-3 with two stolen bases, but got thrown out twice trying to score, and Sami Fagan, Angela Randazzo and Casey Stangel had the remaining three Tiger hits, all singles.

Needham picked up her third career shutout, improving to 11-4 on the year by allowing just five hits and two walks over the full seven innings, striking out three. Tori Finucane (9-4) went the distance for Mizzou, allowing three runs, one earned, on seven hits and three walks, striking out eight.

Both teams led off the first inning with a single, but back-to-back strikeouts by Finucane stranded a pair of Illini, and Repole threw out Gadbois at the plate in the bottom half for a scoreless first inning.

Johnson led off the top of the third by slapping a high chopper up the middle. She stole second, and Sanchez got on by an error by the third baseman to make it first and third. She stole second to put a pair in scoring position, and Perkins came through with a two-out, two-run double to put Illinois ahead, 2-0.

Missouri put together a threat in the bottom of the third, as a pair of singles helped put runners on second and third with one out. But Repole again caught Gadbois at the plate on a grounder to third to help keep the Tigers off the board.

After Needham threw a 1-2-3 bottom of the fifth, the Illini added to their lead in the top of the sixth, as Mychko got things going with a one-out walk. Perez doubled to straightaway center, and Repole drove in Mychko with a sacrifice fly to deep left field, making it 3-0 Illinois.

Needham retired the Tigers in order in the bottom of the seventh, snagging pinch hitter Natalie Fleming's comeback liner for the final out to seal up the 3-0 shutout victory and the Illini's first ranked win of the season.

Two-Out Rally in the Fifth Leads Tigers to Comeback Victory | Missouri 9, Illinois 6 | Box Score (PDF)

Illinois carried a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth, but a two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth, including an inside the park home run by Natalie Fleming, led Missouri past the Illini in the second game for a doubleheader split. The Tigers first tied the score with three runs in the bottom of the fourth, but Illinois regained the lead in the top of the fifth. However, the Tigers scored six runs on five hits, all with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, to pull ahead for the first time in the doubleheader. Despite scoring a run in each of the next two innings, the Orange and Blue were unable to overcome the deficit, falling by a final score of 9-6.

Ruby Rivera was impressive at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and two runs scored. Brittany Sanchez, Jenna Mychko and Kylie Johnson all had two hits, a run and an RBI, including a double for Sanchez, and Remeny Perez singled, scored and drove in a run. Allie Bauch represented the final hit of the Illini's total 11.

Missouri put together 10 hits as a team, including four doubles and an inside the park home run. Angela Randazzo was 3-for-3 with two runs and two RBI, while Corrin Genovese was 2-for-3 with two RBI, and Sami Fagan went 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI. Fleming walked and rounded the bases on a hit to right that drove in three, and Mackenzie Sykes doubled, walked, scored twice and drove in a run.

Casey Stangel (11-4) hurled the complete game for the Tigers, allowing six runs, five earned, on 11 hits and no walks, striking out six, but capturing the win with the assist from her offense's huge production in the fifth inning. Shelese Arnold (4-5) started for the Illini and allowed all nine runs on nine hits and three walks with two strikeouts over four and two-thirds innings. Jade Vecvanags relieved her in the fifth, and allowed a hit to the first batter she faced, but then retired the next four straight to finish out the game with one strikeout over an inning and a third.

The Illini got on the board early, as Rivera got the first hit of the game with a double off the wall top of the wall in left center. Mychko drove her in with an RBI single to center, then Perez made it first and third with a single down the left field line. Stangel got the next batter to strike out, but Johnson beat out a single to third to drive in Mychko, and a wild throw allowed Perez to round the bases, putting Illinois ahead, 3-0.

Randazzo led off the bottom of the second with a double, but an inning-ending double play from Repole to Perez, the Illini's 18th of the season, kept the Tigers off the board.

Missouri tied the game in the bottom of the fourth, as Fagan led off with a single that dropped in just fair in shallow left. Randazzo smoked one down the third base line, and soon it was second and third with one out. Sykes worked a full count walk, and Fleming drove in the first Tiger run of the day with an RBI groundout. Genovese then tied the game with a two-out, two-RBI single to center before getting thrown out trying to take second to end the inning.

Illinois re-took the lead in the top of the fifth, as Johnson and Bauch hit back-to-back singles, then moved up on a wild pitch. A well-placed bunt by Sanchez sent Johnson across to plate to take back the lead, 4-3.

Arnold got the first two batters out in the bottom of the fifth, but Missouri then exploded for five hits, including an inside the park home run by Fleming that got past a diving Johnson in right, to stack up six runs and take a 9-4 lead, chasing Arnold from the circle. Vecvanags allowed a double to Genovese with the bases empty, but then got the final out of the inning on a pop up to third.

The Illini got one back in the top of the sixth, as Rivera and Mychko led off with back to back singles and Perez drove in Rivera with a groundout to second, but the Illini still trailed, 9-5.

Vecvanags retired the Tigers in order in the bottom of the sixth, but Illinois had three outs left to score four runs. Sanchez got things going with a one-out double to right center. Booker popped up to be kept off the base paths for the first time since Feb. 14, then freshman Alyssa Gunther stepped in to pinch hit, making her first career plate appearance. The rookie grounded back to the pitcher, but her speed made it a close play and Stengel threw the ball in the dirt to keep the game alive. Rivera took advantage with an RBI double down the left field line to chip away at the deficit, but that would be all the Illini could do, falling by a final score of 9-6.

Next Up: The Illini's slate does not get any easier, as they head to Minneapolis, Minn. to take on No. 15 Minnesota (22-4, 2-1 Big Ten) in a three-game Big Ten series on Mar. 28-30.