Illinois Offense Comes Up Empty Against No. 15 Minnesota

Nicole Evans got on base twice in game two, including recording the Illini's only hit.
Nicole Evans got on base twice in game two, including recording the Illini's only hit.

March 29, 2014

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

St. Paul, Minn. - No. 15 Minnesota completed the series sweep this afternoon, defeating Illinois, 8-0 in six innings in game one of Saturday's doubleheader, then winning 7-0 in the series finale. The two teams matched each other in hits in the first game, but the nationally-ranked Golden Gophers took advantage of some defensive miscues to score four unearned runs in the first inning, while a late rally broke open the score in the nightcap. At the end of the weekend, Minnesota improves to 27-4 (5-1 Big Ten), while Illinois sinks to 16-13 (1-5 Big Ten).

"All weekend we were playing from behind," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "We didn't make plays on offense or defense, including in the circle. Every time we didn't, Minnesota made us pay. They did an exceptional job of grabbing the momentum and then taking control of the games. A key hit, a better pitch, things change; we just didn't have anyone step up and do that. We will focus on the right things from the weekend and move on."

Game 1: Minnesota 8, Illinois 0 (6 inn.) | Box Score (PDF)

For the second straight day, the No. 15 Golden Gophers jumped out all over the Illini's starter, chasing Shelese Arnold from the circle in the first inning. Minnesota put up four unearned runs in the first, then scored on a solo homer in the second. Jade Vecvanags kept the Gophers at bay for the next three innings, but Minnesota scored three more in the bottom of the sixth to end the game early by a score of 8-0.

Illinois had a runner on base in every inning, including a pair of hits by Alex Booker, but the Orange and Blue were unable to string any rallies together, getting shut out for just the second time all season. In addition to Booker, Ruby Rivera also reached base twice, with a walk and a double, and Jess Perkins singled behind Booker in the sixth. Allie Bauch picked up a walk, and Kylie Johnson represented the remaining Illinois base runner, getting on by error.

Minnesota scored its eight runs on just four hits, but two of them were solo home runs, which represented all-but-one of the Golden Gophers' earned runs. Kayla Wenner led off the second inning with a homer and pitcher Sara Groenewegen began the sixth inning with one. Kaitlyn Richardson and Bree Blanchette picked up the remaining two hits, as Blanchette added an RBI and two runs scored, while Hannah Granger and Erica Meyer both walked twice.

Shelese Arnold (4-6) started the game for the Illini, and allowed just one hit, but three walks and four wild pitches, along with an unfortunate Illini error, led to four unearned runs and her exit after just two thirds of an inning. Jade Vecvanags replaced her in the circle and tossed the remaining five innings, allowing just three hits, but two home runs, along with three walks, to allow the final four runs, three earned, while striking out three.

Sara Groenewegen (7-0) went the distance for Minnesota, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out 10 batters over six innings. Groenewegen, who entered the week ranking second in the nation in strikeouts per seven innings, made the first eight outs of the game with strikeouts, before her defense finally made its first out in the field.

The Golden Gophers picked up four unearned runs in the bottom of the first off just one hit but three walks and four wild pitches. Arnold got the leadoff batter out, but two walks and a single loaded the bases. Banchette grounded to third, but Repole couldn't make the play, leading to the first run of the game. LeMay then drove in a second run with a groundout to third. Arnold then began to struggle with control in the cold weather, as four wild pitches allowed two more runs, leading to her replacement in the circle.  Vecvanags entered the game and needed just one pitch to finish out the inning, but not before Minnesota had put up a 4-0 lead.

Kayla Wenner added to the Gophers' lead in the bottom of the second, leading off the inning with a solo home run to left center.

The Illini had a base runner in every inning, but after five full frames, the Orange and Blue still trailed, 5-0.

Ilinois put together a scoring threat in the top of the sixth, as Booker and Perkins led off with a pair of singles. Rivera moved them into scoring position with a soft grounder to short, but Groenewegen got Mychko to pop up for the second out, then struck out Perez to keep the Illini off the board.

Groenewegen carried that momentum into the bottom half of the inning, leading off the sixth with a solo homer to straightaway center. Blanchette followed with a single and stole second, then moved to third on a ground out. Granger walked, and a passed ball allowed Blanchette to score and pinch runner Macken to advance all the way to third. Macken was thrown out at home on a grounder to Bauch at second, but a pair of bases-loaded walks brought home two more runs to finish out the game, 8-0, with two outs in the sixth inning.

Game 2: Minnesota 7, Illinois 0 | Box Score (PDF)

It was a one-run game early, with both teams mustering just one hit over the first three innings, but No. 15 Minnesota broke things open by scoring three runs in both the fifth and sixth innings to seal up a 7-0 victory over Illinois in the series finale.  Sara Moulton (18-3) limited the Illini to just one hit and one walk over six innings with five strikeouts, and Nikki Anderson finished the game out with a perfect top of the seventh, as the pair of Gophers combined for the 15th Minnesota shutout of the season.

Brandi Needham (11-6) limited Minnesota to just one hit, although it was a home run, over the first three innings, but a tough final two frames led to a total of seven runs on eight hits and three walks, with two home runs, while striking out four over six innings.

Nicole Evans singled in the second inning, which would turn out to be the Illini's sole hit of the game. She also reached base in the fifth, beating out a strikeout on a pitch in the dirt. Allie Bauch drew the Illini's only walk in the third.

Bree Blanchette and Hannah Granger both went 2-for-3 in the game, as Granger hit a two-run homer, while Blanchete had an RBI double. Taylor LeMay homered in the second and scored twice, and Kaitlyn Richardson ripped a three-run double in the fifth.

Both pitchers retired the first five batters they faced in the game. Nicole Evans ripped a single up the middle with two outs in the top of the second to represent the first base runner of the game, but was stranded on first.  Taylor LeMay broke up Needham's perfect start with two outs in the bottom half, sending a line drive over the wall in left center to make it 1-0 Minnesota.

Evans got on base to start the fifth, hustling down to first after swinging at a ball in the dirt, but her teammates were unable to get her past third, as she was stranded for the second time in the game.

Granger singled up the middle to lead off the bottom of the fifth, and a pair of sacrifice bunts moved pinch runner Erika Smyth to third. Needham intentionally walked Walker, and Meyer worked a full count walk to load the bases. Richardson then ripped a liner to the wall in right to clear the bases and put Minnesota ahead 4-0 before getting thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple.

Groenewegen led off the bottom of the sixth with a double to the gap in right center, and Blanchette laced one down the line in left for an RBI double. LeMay grounded out to short, but Granger kept the offense going, launching a two-run homer to left center to make it 7-0 Minnesota.

Nikki Anderson came in in relief in the top of the seventh to close out the game for the Gophers.  She retired all three batters she faced to seal up the 7-0 victory and complete the series sweep.

Next Up: Illinois concludes its six-game road trip with a visit to Normal, Ill., to face Illinois State on Wednesday. April 2. First pitch is set for 5 p.m.