Home cooking cures what ails Illini

Brittany Koester hit a three-run home run in the second game of the doubleheader vs. Loyola.
Brittany Koester hit a three-run home run in the second game of the doubleheader vs. Loyola.

April 6, 2005

Game 1 Box Score
Game 2 Box Score

Urbana, Ill. - Illinois came into Wednesday's game with Loyola in search of a much needed shot in the arm. A little home cooking did the trick. The Illini looked impressive in every phase of the game in a doubleheader sweep of Loyola to open the 2005 home season. Illini pitchers gave up just two walks, five hits, and one run; the defense didn't commit an error; and the heralded Illinois offense returned to form with a frenzy in downing the visiting Ramblers, 8-0 and 10-1 in run-ruled shortened games .

The last time Illinois played at Eichelberger Field, the Illini completed a two-game sweep of Iowa to clinch second place in the Big Ten in May of 2004. Many new faces donned Illinois uniforms some 11 months later at the friendly confines where the Illini improve to 51-15-1 all-time, including 9-1 in opening day games. The wins were also much needed for a team that entered the game 15-15 overall after coming up empty against Big Ten front runners Northwestern and Michigan over the weekend.

Illini Head Coach Terri Sullivan has once again shuffled the line-up defensively and the results were impressive. Jenna Hall returned to first base where she made some incredible stretches for outs. Shanna Diller made a nice stab at third and Molly Lawhead moved to second while Angelena Mexicano starts at her natural position of shortstop. "We knew we had a versatile team coming in," Sullivan said. "I felt that we had to shore up our corners and even though Molly can't remember the last time she played second, we saw her there at our camps and she has the attributes to excel there."

In the circle, Mary Miller and Claire DeVreese had two of their best performances of the year. Miller tossed a two-hit shut-out in the five-inning affair in the opener, allowing just five balls out of the infield. DeVreese, heralded for her imposing presence on the mound, showed that in the second game. The freshman struck out a career-best seven, including striking out the side in the third.

"Both pitchers were aggressive and trusted their defense," Sullivan said. "Claire is a power pitcher. Tonight she reached back for that little extra that you need to be that type of a pitcher."

Sullivan, who always has stressed winning innings, didn't lose one in the sweep. Even when Loyola manufactured a run to take a brief one-run lead in the fifth inning of the nightcap, Illinois responded by scoring three in the bottom half of inning five and added seven more in the bottom of the sixth.

Speaking of versatility, Sullivan has known all along that her team can score runs in many ways. The speed and precision of senior LeeAnn Butcher was demonstrated in six straight hits, including an RBI triple in the fifth inning of the second game. Illinois used the long ball in both games. Left-handed hitting Molly Lawhead hit a three-run home run to the opposite field in the first game (the first of her career), then went 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored in the second game. Brittany Koester ended the second game with a monster three-run shot to dead center.

The Illini were like a runaway train, needing a little time to get going, but as the games went on they picked up steam and were full throttle to the finish. After scoring one in the third inning of game one, the Illini added five in the fourth and two in the fifth. Freshman Makenzie Smith doubled home Kisten Martin to start the scoring in the fourth. After Lawhead's three-run blast, Rachelle Coriddi (4 for 8 ,4 runs, 2 RBI) tripled in the left-center field gap, and scored on a bunt single from Butcher.

That squeeze wasn't the most impressive one of the day, however. That belonged to Mexicano, who had to go up to reach a high pitch, yet successfully executed the suicide squeeze in the fifth inning of the second game.

Kisten Martin was 3-for-4 with a run scored in the second game, while Hall hit the ball hard every at-bat, going a combined 3-for-5 with two RBI.

"Our team really loves to play at home and it shows," Sullivan said. "The energy that they produced is contagious. The game they play when they do it well is fun to watch."

Illini fans will get plenty of opportunities to do just that over the next week with home games Friday (6 p.m vs. Indiana), Saturday (noon vs. IU), Sunday (noon, DH, Purdue), and Tuesday (4 p.m., DH, DePaul).