Home Runs Lead No. 15 Minnesota Past Illinois in Series Opener
March 28, 2014
St. Paul, Minn. – After prolonged winter weather forced a location change to the turf field at nearby University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., No. 15 Minnesota and Illinois took advantage of short field dimensions to launch a combined total of six home runs out of the ballpark, but the Golden Gophers got a hold of more than the Illini, as they took the series opener, 8-3. With the win, Minnesota improves to 25-4 (3-1 Big Ten), while Illinois falls to 16-11 (1-3 Big Ten).
Senior Alex Booker, who registered the second-longest single-season hitting streak in Illinois history which came to an end at 15 games on Wednesday night in the second contest against No. 16 Missouri, got to work on starting a new streak, going a game-best 3-for-4 with a run scored. Jess Perkins had a strong day at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a two-run homer in the top of the sixth, while Ruby Rivera hit her Big Ten-leading 10th double of the season. Nicole Evans notched the final Illini run in the top of the seventh, getting on by error and scoring on a wild pitch.
Minnesota put together an impressive five home runs in the game, scoring the final seven of their eight runs with the long ball. Tyler Walker doubled twice and scored twice, representing the first Minnesota run. Kaitlyn Richardson drove her in with a single in the bottom of the first, then hit a two-run shot in the fifth. Sara Groenewegen and Bree Blanchette hit back-to-back homers in the first, chasing Brandi Needham from the circle. Hannah Granger went deep off Jade Vecvanags before the end of the first, and Taylor LeMay hit the final homer of the game, a solo shot in the bottom of the sixth.
Needham (11-5) began the game in the circle for the Illini, but lasted just one third of an inning, allowing four runs on four hits, including two home runs, to the five batters she faced. Vecvanags replaced her and gave up another home run in the first, before settling in to hold the Gophers scoreless over the next three frames, including striking out the side in the second. Minnesota found its swing again late in the game, scoring three runs off of a double and two homers in the final two innings, as Vecvanags allowed a total of four runs on five hits and a walk with five strikeouts over five and two-thirds.
Sara Moulton (17-3), who had not allowed a home run before the start of Big Ten play, allowed three runs, two earned, on seven hits, including the home run by Perkins, and two walks with 10 strikeouts. Nikki Anderson entered the game with two outs and two runners on base in the top of the seventh and struck out the only batter she faced to finish out the game.
"We flat out got beat by the long ball today,” said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. “We all know there is no way to defend that. We had seven hits, they had nine. I do like that this team 100 percent knows they are the ‘FIGHTING ILLINI.’
“We made some adjustments offensively and got some solid relief pitching from Jade. Perk was as good of a leader as you could have out there, and with the grit she had today, forced that pitching changed in the seventh. Minnesota is playing very good softball, and we are ready for a challenging doubleheader tomorrow!"
The Golden Gophers put the Illini in a big hole early, scoring five runs off three homers and a double in the bottom of the first.
Illinois put together a scoring threat in the top of the fourth, as Perkins singled and Rivera followed with a one-out double, but Moulton struck out the next two batters to strand the pair in scoring position.
Vecvanags kept the Gophers off the board through three full innings, but with one out in the fifth, Richardson went deep to bring home Walker and make it 7-0.
Booker beat out her second hit of the game with one out in the sixth, and Perkins crushed a two-run bomb to put Illinois on the board.
LeMay replied with a line drive over the wall in left in the bottom of the sixth, making it 8-2 Minnesota.
Illinois put together a bit of a rally in the top of the seventh, started by Evans who reached due to an error by the shortstop. Bauch moved her to second with a ground out, and Sanchez then made it first and third with two outs on a misplayed chopper to third. A pitch in the dirt got away from the catcher, and Evans took advantage, coming in to score. Booker followed with her third infield hit of the game, at which point Minnesota made a pitching change. Nikki Anderson took care of business, keeping Perkins off the basepaths for the first time all game, striking her out for the final out of the night.
Next Up: The Illini and Golden Gophers finish out the series on Saturday, March 29, with a doubleheader at University of St. Thomas beginning at 11 a.m.