Illinois ends Michigan's streak
April 17, 2004
Urbana, Ill. - Saturday Illinois played its 14th game of the year against a ranked opponent. It has been in facing some of the nation's best that the Illini have gained the confidence that they can play with anyone in the country. That confidence paid off as Illinois rallied from two runs down to defeat No. 9 Michigan 3-2 in front of a season-best 748 fans at Eichelberger Field
The win marked the highest ranked opponent Illinois has beaten in school history and put an end to Michigan's impressive 19-game winning streak. It also kept Illinois' hopes for a Big Ten title alive. The Illini (29-15-1, 7-3 in the Big Ten) trail Michigan (36-7, 9-1) and Iowa (29-15, 8-0) by two games in the standings at the mid point of the conference season. Michigan and Iowa square off in a doubleheader Sunday afternoon in Iowa City.
Illinois' Erin Montgomery, who has now reached safely in five straight plate appearances, was 2-for-2 with two walks, a home run and two RBI on Saturday.
Friday night Illinois fell behind early, rallied to take a 2-1lead, only to see Michigan prevail, 4-2. Saturday's game was again back-and-forth, but this time with a different result. Uncharacteristically, Michigan and Illinois, two of the top 12 teams nationally in fielding, combined for five errors. Michigan took advantage of two Illini errors in the first inning to score two runs. Monica Shock and Jessica Merchant each provided RBI singles.
Amanda Fortune, Friday's hard-luck losing pitcher, pitched the final 6 2/3 innings to improve her record to 18-8. Michigan had just one base runner after the second inning. Fortune struck out four and the Illinois defense responded with some great plays behind her.
Montgomery, who has had some clutch hits for Illinois during her career, including a walk-off home run last year against Michigan State, came through with perhaps her best offensive performance of the year. Montgomery took a 1-0 pitch from Michigan's Nicole Motycka and hit it off the scoreboard in left-center field for a two-run home run. Jenna Hall led off the inning with a double to left, and Laura Zobrist pinch ran for Hall.
"Great players perform well under pressure," said Illini Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "Erin Montgomery has had some big hits for us in clutch situations before. She saw the ball well today, but her catch in right field (in the second inning) helped ignite our team offensively."
Illinois had a few opportunities to break on top, including in the sixth when Montgomery and Erin Jones led off the frame with back-to-back singles. Michigan's Jennie Ritter came in to retire the side in the sixth, then recorded the first two outs of the Illini seventh.
With two outs in the seventh, Lindsey Hamma and Hall reached on errors, and Montgomery was walked intentionally to load the bases. The first pitch to Erin Jones hit her, forcing in the lead run. Fortune retired the final 11 batters she faced, including the side in the bottom of the seventh,to preserve the victory.
"We have a great staff of pitchers who throw strikes," Sullivan said. "Amanda had some rest this week, is a great leader, and kept us in the game today.
"This senior class has set a lot of firsts," Sullivan said. "The wins over Iowa three years ago proved that we can compete with that level of competition. (Defeating our first top-ten team) is another one in a list of great firsts that we've had here."