DePaul Comes Back to Stun Illini, 5-3
April 16, 2014
Urbana, Ill. - The University of Illinois carried a one-run lead into the top of the seventh inning, but clutch hitting by DePaul led to four unearned runs, as the Blue Demons came from behind to top the Illini, 5-3. The victory marks the 12th straight for the hot-hitting Blue Demons, as Head Coach Eugene Lenti, in his 33rd season at the helm of DePaul, recorded his 1,200th career win. The Blue Demons, who are a perfect 10-0 in Big East play, improve to 30-8 on the year, while Illinois falls below the .500 mark for the first time all season, dropping to 18-19.
Senior Allie Braden was the hero at the plate for the Blue Demons, accounting for four of the team's five runs, by going 3-for-4 with a triple, two runs scored, and the game-winning two-run double in the seventh. Morgan Maize went 2-for-3, and Megan Coronado tied the score with an RBI double, then scored the go-ahead run in her only at-bat in the seventh inning.
"We were beat in the seventh by a team that knows how to finish games better at this point," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "Everyone around our team knows that we have lost some very tough games in the late innings to some very good opponents. A less resilient group of players wouldn't want to get back at it--that is NOT this team. We know that throughout today's games we had opportunities to score and didn't come through as well. It is hard to lose those games that are there for the taking, especially big games like this was, but we will move forward tomorrow at practice."
Ruby Rivera had a strong day at the plate for the Illini, going 2-for-3 with a walk, a run and an RBI, and Allie Bauch singled and scored in the bottom of the seventh. Nicole Evans drove in the first run of the game, getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the first inning, and three Illini registered stolen bases, including Alex Booker, who walked, singled and moved to a perfect 12-for-12 on the basepaths.
The Illini defense was solid early, but struggled as the game went on, as four Illini errors helped with all five of DePaul's runs. However, the Illini, who entered the week ranked second in the nation in double plays, turned a pair in the game to increase their season total to 24, an average of 0.65 per game. Illinois is just three off the program record, set at 27 in 2006, when the Illini ranked fourth in the NCAA by averaging school-record 0.49 DPs per game, a figure the 2014 Illini have been well above all season.
Brandi Needham (13-10) allowed just one earned run over the complete game, but took her 10th loss of the season after allowing four unearned runs in the fifth, totaling seven hits and two walks, one intentional, with two strikeouts in the game. Kirsten Verdun (22-5), who tied DePaul's school record by making her 132nd career start in the game, captured her 96th victory by allowing three runs, two earned, on seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts in the complete game.
"They were just really aggressive," said Needham. "Hats off to them. They capitalized on the pitches that were thrown and any mistakes that we made."
Illinois scored a run in the bottom of the first, using two walks and a pair of hit batsmen to take a 1-0 lead, but squandered the opportunity for a bigger inning, going hitless in the frame and leaving the bases loaded.
Rivera added an unearned run for the Illini in the fifth, getting to second on a fielding and subsequent throwing error by the third baseman. Jenna Mychko singled up the middle to get her to third, and a wild pitch allowed Rivera to score the second run of the game.
The Blue Demons took advantage of a defensive miscue in the top of the sixth to score a run of their own, as Braden crushed a triple to the gap in left center, then came in to score as an errant throw from Sanchez in center skipped away from the third baseman.
DePaul took the lead in the top of the seventh, scoring four unearned runs to turn the tables on the Illini. Bonezek got it started, reaching first as the leadoff batter after a tough hop caused Rivera to miss the ball at short. Maize moved her into scoring position with a ground out, and Coronado then tied the score with an RBI double up the middle. Pinch hitter Penna grounded back to the pitcher for the second out of the inning, then Needham intentionally walked Verdun. Pinch runner Fitzgerald took second on the defensive indifference, then Braden gave the Blue Demons the lead, crushing a two-run double to left center. Connolly added an additional run with an RBI single, before the inning came to a close with DePaul on top, 5-2.
Trailing for the first time in the game, Bauch led off the bottom of the seventh with a single to left center. Booker moved her to second with a ground out, then Rivera came through with a two-out RBI single to cut the deficit to two. However, that would be all the Illini offense would get, as the Orange and Blue fell by a final score of 5-3.
Next Up: Illinois hits the road for a Big Ten series at Purdue, beginning at 3 p.m. CT on Friday, April 18. The Illini will take on the Boilermakers live on the Big Ten Network at 4 p.m. CT on Saturday, then conclude the three-game series on Sunday at 11 a.m.