Off and running
April 2, 2004
Urbana, Ill. - Illinois entered the day 12-0 when scoring four or more runs and 19-2-1 when scoring at least two. The problem lately had been the lack of offensive production. To shake things up a bit, Illini Head Coach Terri Sullivan inserted pitcher Amanda Fortune into the batting order in the Big Ten opener against Michigan State (18-11). Fortune, Katie O'Connell, and the rest of the Illini bats came alive in a 7-1 triumph over the visiting Spartans before 343 fans at Eichelberger Field.
"We tell all our players to be ready because you could be called on at any time," Sullivan said. "Amanda has had one of the best swings in practice and came through with a great game on the mound and at the plate."
O'Connell was the offensive spark plug, going 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs. Jenna Hall also was 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored, while Fortune in her first at-bat this year, came through with her first hit in two years and her first extra-base hit of her career. On the mound, Fortune was solid as usual, scattering six hits and allowing just a home run to MSU pitcher Jessica Beach in improving her record to 14-6. Fortune had one walk and five strikeouts.
"We had a great week of practice and came out aggressive to start Big Ten play," noted Sullivan. "Katie O'Connell showed great senior leadership and told me before the game that she was ready. She just had overall great at-bats. OC is like a player-coach out there."
O'Connell got the Illini (22-11-1) on the board first, blasting a solo home run to dead-center field with two outs in the second inning. O'Connell's homer was her second of the season, landing between the flagpoles past the outfield fence. Fortune followed with a line-shot double to right-center field. Although she was stranded at second, Fortune and the Illini led 1-0 after two innings.
Fortune gave up the home run in the third inning, but Illinois answered in the fourth with five runs of its own on four hits and two Spartan errors. LeeAnn Butcher reached on a bunt single then stole second. O'Connell picked up where she left off in the second inning, knocking Butcher in with an RBI double to right-center field. O'Connell moved to third when Fortune reached on an error by the second baseman, then scored on Sarah Baumgartner's sacrifice fly to left-center.
One out later, Rachelle Coriddi reached on an error by the first baseman, scoring Elene Planinsek, who ran for Fortune. Coriddi stole second then scored on Hall's single up the middle. Erin Montgomery continued her hefty hitting all-time against the Spartans, blasting a triple to left field to knock in Hall and give the Illini a 6-1 lead after four innings.
Illinois added another run in the sixth when Lindsey Hamma hit a one-out single up the middle. One out later Hamma stole second and Hall knocked her in with a base hit to left field, giving the Illini a 7-1 lead after six innings.
"It's always big to punch one across early," Sullivan said. "We have the attitude that we want to win every inning. Our team kept the momentum going with a big fourth inning."
Illinois and the Spartans finish the two-game set at noon Saturday at Eichelberger Field.