Illini Offense Mercy-Rules Penn State, 12-2
April 3, 2011
Urbana, Ill. - The University of Illinois softball team cruised to a five inning, mercy-rule victory, 12-2, over Penn State on Sunday as nine Illini batters found a way on base to produce the second-highest run total on the season. Meredith Hackett and Hollie Pinchback each slugged a home run while Danielle Zymkowitz finished the weekend 4-for-5 (.800) at the plate against a Nittany Lions pitching staff that combined for a 1.59 ERA on the season entering the series.
"[Bouncing back after yesterday's loss was] really big," Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said. "The conference is deeper than ever this season and we put ourselves right back in the race [for the title]... We came out [to play] today and that's what we have to do in the Big Ten. Each game, each day and each pitch, we have to be focused on playing the contest well and the team responded."
For the second consecutive day, Illinois (16-13 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) jumped out to first inning lead, this time with two runs off Penn State starter Lisa Akamine. Zymkowitz walked to open the contest, racing home when Hackett doubled to center field one batter later to break the scoreless tie. Jessica Davis followed with a single to put runners on the corners with one out, bringing Kelley Wedel to the plate. Wedel lined out to right field on a sacrifice fly to score Hackett; however, Davis was caught off first base without tagging up to end the frame.
Penn State cut the Illinois lead in half in the top of the second inning; however, the Illini bats exploded for five runs in the bottom of the frame, all with two outs, to stake the Orange and Blue to a 7-1 advantage. Penn State replaced Akamine in the circle with redshirt senior Jackie Hill at the beginning of the frame, with Hill striking out the first two batters she faced before five straight Illini reached base safely. Erin Bradarich walked and advanced to third when Alex Booker singled to shallow center field, with Booker moving to second as the Nittany Lions attempted to catch Bradarich at third. Bradarich reached home safely while Booker moved to third on a passed ball by Penn State catcher Kasie Hatfield to extend the lead to 3-1 during the following at bat.
Still with two outs in the second, Illinois continued to find ways on base. Zymkowitz drove an RBI single to left field to push Booker across and increase the lead to 4-1. Pinchback followed with the third Illini walk of the day to put runners on first and second before Hackett blasted a three run homer to straightaway center field, bouncing the ball off the metal pole hoisting the American Flag to put Illinois ahead, 7-1.
The Orange and Blue continued to increase their lead in the fourth despite Penn State scoring one run in the top of the frame to cut the Illini advantage to 7-2. Illinois sent 10 batters to the plate during the bottom of the inning to reach the final score, 12-2. With one out, Zymkowitz tallied her second hit of the day - a single up the middle. Pinchback followed with her fourth home run of the season, a line-drive shot over the fence in right-center field to extend the lead to 9-2.
Hackett drew her team-leading 19th walk in the following at bat, with Nikki Simpson pinch running for Hackett at first base. Simpson stole second, her seventh theft on the season, before Davis walked and Wedel was struck by a pitch to load the bases. With Vaji at the plate, Akamine threw a wild pitch to plate Simpson and put Illinois in front, 10-2, before Vaji connected for a two-RBI double to right field to cap scoring in the contest.
Illinois starting pitcher Pepper Gay earned her 10th victory on the season with three innings of work, allowing one unearned run on two hits and four walks due to sustained winds of over 30 mph. Relief pitcher Jackie Guy closed the contest, striking out two while allowing one earned run over the fourth and fifth innings.
"It was not easy to pitch today," Sullivan said. "I was pleased with Pepper and Jackie holding Penn State to four hits and I felt that was key to our victory."
Up Next: The Illini face Illinois State (18-11, 5-1 MVC) on Eichelberger Field on Wednesday, April 6 for a 6 p.m. contest before traveling to Ohio State (9-20, 2-2 Big Ten) for a game each against the Buckeyes on Saturday, April 9 and Sunday, April 10 at 1 p.m. CT.