Senior right fielder Nikki Simpson finished 5-for-6 on the day against Wisconsin, with a double and three RBIs
April 15, 2012
URBANA, Ill. - The Illinois softball team split a Sunday afternoon doubleheader with Wisconsin, earning victory, 8-7 in game one before faltering, 10-7 in the second contest. Three hitters connected above .500 at the plate for the Orange and Blue on the day, with senior right fielder Nikki Simpson's 5-for-6 (.833), three-RBI day pacing the team. Freshman second baseman Jami Schkade and sophomore left fielder Alex Booker each went 4-for-7, with Schkade scoring four runs while doubling and notching an RBI and Booker adding a pair of run-scoring hits.
"I like that, on the weekend, our offense came alive," Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said. "There are a lot of hitters on this team we believed in all season and they just needed to get those big hits to get the offense going."
Game One: Illinois 8, Wisconsin 7
The Orange and Blue broke open the contest with four runs in the bottom of the fourth to take a 5-1 advantage, a lead they would not relinquish the remainder of the way. After freshman third baseman Jess Perkins led off with a four-pitch walk, redshirt-senior first baseman Danielle Vaji dropped a bunt down the third base line. Badgers third baseman Shannel Blackshear's throw was wide of first base and bounced off the fencing in foul territory, allowing Perkins to score Illinois' second run from first while Vaji moved to third.
"Little things can create a spark," said Sullivan when discussing the offense's ability to score in bunches on Sunday. "Watching a teammate cross home plate is an exciting thing and you feed off that energy in the dugout. We believe in our player's skills and what they can do and we just look for them to execute things when asked to do so or put the ball in play. I thought we hit the gaps well today."
Ahead by one, sophomore designated player Jenna Mychko scored Vaji with a bunt in front of the plate, reaching safely as Wisconsin unsuccessfully attempted to record the out at home on the squeeze play. Now ahead 3-1 with freshman pinch runner Lauren Loies on first, Schkade singled down the left field line to put runners on first and second. After junior catcher Stephanie Cuevas used a sacrifice bunt to move both runners up one base, Simpson singled down the right field line to score Loies for a three-run lead. Simpson took second and Schkade moved to third on the throw to home plate and Booker followed with an RBI-single to shortstop to score Illinois' fifth run.
Illinois got on the board in the bottom of the first inning, taking a 1-0 lead. Two hitters into the home half of the contest, Davis connected on the first pitch of the at bat over the fence in left-center field. With the long ball, Davis became the eighth player in program history to hit 20 or more home runs as an Illini.
Wisconsin evened the score in the top of the third. With the bases loaded and no one out, Kendall Grimm grounded a full-count offering back to Illinois starting pitcher Pepper Gay, who threw low to Cuevas covering home in an attempt to record the force out at the plate. Gay recovered from the miscue immediately, using a fielder's choice ground out, a strikeout swinging and a fly out to left field to keep the game tied at 1-1.
After the Badgers plated two in the fifth on a Marissa Mersch single to center field, Illinois responded with three runs in the bottom of the frame to take a 8-3 lead into the sixth. With one out, Perkins walked for the second time on the game and Vaji singled to center field, with Perkins taking third and Vaji moving to second on a fielding error by Maria Van Abel. Mychko followed with a two-run single down the left field line to score Perkins and Vaji, giving Illinois an 7-3 lead. Simpson followed with an RBI-single to second base two batters later to extend the lead to five runs.
The Badgers scored four runs in the top of the seventh to reach the final score, with back-to-back RBI-singles by Marissa Mersch and Michelle Mueller cutting the Wisconsin deficit to 8-5. Kendra Wright totaled a sacrifice fly out to center field before Mueller scored on a wild pitch to put the Badgers within one run of tying. However, Gay retired the following batter, Mary Massei, on a fly out to center field to secure the win for the Orange and Blue.
Gay improved to 13-11 after finishing the first contest with 12 hits allowed in seven innings, giving up seven runs - six earned - on three walks and three strikeouts. Cassandra Darrah took the loss for Wisconsin, giving up eight runs - one earned on nine hits and two walks, striking out a pair.
Game Two: Wisconsin 10, Illinois 7
Wisconsin (24-13 overall, 8-4 Big Ten) led off the second contest of the day with a first-pitch home run, one of three long balls Massei hit during the contest, to go ahead, 1-0. However, the Illini matched the Badgers with a run of their own in the bottom of the frame. Davis reached on a fielding error, advancing to second on the play before Vaji doubled to the right-center field wall two batters later to score the first Illinois run of game two.
The Orange and Blue (18-20, 3-9) took the lead in the bottom of the second, with Schkade opening the frame with a single to right-center field. Two batters later Simpson singled to left field before Booker beat out a grounder to shortstop to score Vaji from third for the 2-1 advantage.
The game continued its back-and-forth trend into the third, when Wisconsin re-tied the game at 2-2 on a Massei homer to right-center field before the Badgers added to its lead with solo home runs from Blackshear and Mueller in the following frame. After Illinois plated one in the fourth on a Booker RBI-single to cut the deficit to 4-3, the Badgers offense exploded for five runs in the sixth. Mueller connected on a two-run single up the middle before Massei homered with two runners on to stake Wisconsin to a 9-3 lead.
Despite being down 10-3 following a Stephanie Peace solo homer in the top of the seventh, Illinois scored four runs in the bottom of the frame before the rally attempt fell short, 10-7. Davis walked as the inning's leadoff hitter before Perkins was struck with a pitch to put two runners on base. Vaji grounded into a fielder's choice, with Davis retired at third on the play while Mychko doubled in Perkins from second to pull Illinois within 10-4. Schkade added a run-scoring single, taking second on a throwing error by Grimm in right field two batters before Simpson tallied her final RBI-single down the left field line. With Simpson on first and two away, Booker grounded out to Darrah in the circle to conclude the contest.
Junior starting pitcher Jackie Guy fell to 5-9 on the season with six innings of work, giving up five runs on five hits and two walks while tally a pair of strikeouts. Gay subbed in to pitch the seventh, allowing a pair of hits and a walk, with all five runs charged to Gay being unearned.
Darrah is credited with the win in relief, as starting pitcher Meghan McIntosh did pitch the required minimum amount of innings to become eligible to receive the win. Darrah improved to 16-7 on the season with two unearned runs allowed in one frame of work in the circle.
Up next, The Orange and Blue host Western Illinois (22-18) on Tuesday, April 17 for a 7 p.m. CT contest on Eichelberger Field. The Illini will host Country Music Night during Tuesday's doubleheader, with the evening featuring a musical lineup composed of popular country songs. In addition, Steve Holstein from the Holstein & Company Morning Show on WIXY 100.3 FM will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.