Katie O'Connell scored a run and drove home another vs. Michigan Friday
April 16, 2004
Urbana, Ill. - "Big Ten softball is some of the best in the country," said Illinois coach Terri Sullivan after her squad battled No. 9 Michigan on Friday evening at Eichelberger Field. "We had a great crowd tonight. They gave us some great electricity."
Indeed, the 611 fans in Urbana saw some terrific softball. Unfortunately, the Wolverines (36-6, 9-0 in the Big Ten) rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the Illini, 4-2, and extend their winning streak to 19 in a row.
Early on, Michigan's Jennie Ritter and Illinois' Amanda Fortune traded blow for blow in a pitcher's duel through three innings. Ritter allowed just one base runner and no hits through four innings. Fortune, meanwhile, allowed just two hits and one walk while striking out two in the first three innings. Plus, Fortune started the 1-6-3 inning- ending double play in the first.
Michigan finally broke out on top on a double from Nicole Motycka, scoring Jennifer Olds from second, giving the Maize and Blue a 1-0 lead. Fortune retired the next six batters in a row, giving her team a chance to rally.
LeeAnn Butcher's bunt single, the first hit off Ritter, got things going in the fifth inning. Katie O'Connell then hit a shot down the left-field line scoring the speedy Butcher, who motored home from first to tie the score. Kisten Martin, who delivered a game-winning double last Friday at Purdue, pushed Illinois in front with a gap shot to left-center for a double, scoring O'Connell and giving the Illini faithful something to cheer about. The runs off Ritter were the first runs scored against Michigan pitching in nine games.
Michigan showed why it's ranked in the top ten nationally in the very next inning with three unearned runs off Amanda Fortune. With two outs in the sixth inning and Jennifer Olds, who reached on an error, at first, Motycka delivered the dagger, a two-run home run to left center, putting Michigan back in front 3-2. The next hitter, third baseman Grace Leutele, followed suit with a line-drive shot that just cleared the left field fence, making it 4-2.
Motycka was truly the MVP of the game for Michigan. She struck out five in the final 2 2/3 innings to improve her record to 14-3 on the year. The Illini battled back, however. Back-to-back singles by Jenna Hall and Erin Montgomery brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, but Motycka retired the final two batters of that inning, then struck out the side in the seventh to end the game.
"I was pleased with how our team came to play," said Sullivan. "We played aggressive and when you do that you're playing to win. We were able to capture the momentum with some clutch hits in the fifth inning. Unfortunately, against a team like Michigan, you can't afford any mistakes, and they were able to take the momentum back right away."
The loss dropped Illinois (28-15-1, 6-3 in the Big Ten) three games behind Michigan in the standings, making Saturday's contest critical to Illinois' hopes of a conference title. First pitch is at noon at Eichelberger Field.