No. 23 Illini prove they're in it for the long 'Hall'

Jenna Hall was 3-for-3 with two RBI vs. Minnesota
Jenna Hall was 3-for-3 with two RBI vs. Minnesota

April 18, 2003

Final Stats

Urbana, Ill. - Break out the clich?s - 'You gotta believe,' or 'It's never over 'til it's over.' Which ever you choose, the Illini softball team rallied behind it on Friday in a thrilling 3-2 win over Minnesota in front of 379 fans at Eichelberger Field. No. 23 Illinois overcame a 2-0 deficit with three runs in the bottom of the sixth to win its eighth straight game.

"The crowd was really our tenth man out there tonight," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "The team fed off of the energy produced by the crowd and the dugout."

For five innings, Minnesota's Piper Martin, one of the most powerful pitchers in the Big Ten with a league-leading 225 strikeouts, shut out the Illini. Only freshman Jenna Hall managed to come through with the only two hits for Illinois.

At the plate, the Gophers tagged Illinois' Amanda Fortune with back-to-back home runs - from Hailee Nanchey and Anne Thul -- in the first inning. As has been the case, however, Fortune got stronger as the game went on, allowing just two hits while striking out six the rest of the way.

Friday night provided more evidence of the magic going on this year with Illinois softball, which was on the verge of its 12th come-from-behind win of the season. Katie O'Connell actually fired the first shot with a long shot to deep centerfield in the fifth. Although O'Connell was out to end the inning, it signaled that Illinois believed it could finally get around on Martin.

Martin stuck out five Illinois players in the first two innings, but just three in the final four. Freshman lead-off hitter Rachelle Coriddi accounted for two of those eight strikeouts, but was determined not to have history repeat itself again. Coriddi beat out a grounder to third in typical Coriddi fashion to lead off the bottom of the sixth. After Coriddi advanced to second on a ground out, she was there with two outs. The next hitter Lindsey Hamma coaxed the only walk from Martin on the night, putting runners at first and second with two outs.

That brought up Ms. 2-for-2 Jenna Hall. With a look of determination on her face, Hall roped a shot into the gap, scoring both Coriddi and Hamma and bringing the crowd and those in the dugout to a roar. "Jenna Hall had a determined look in her eyes," said Illinois Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "She has a lot of talent, and when she makes up her mind to get it done, she is really tough."

The Illini weren't through. Having already pinch run for Hall, Coach Sullivan was forced to leave Hall in to run for herself. Erin Montgomery, the team's leader in home runs (8) and RBI (29), stepped to the plate. Monty came through with a single to center. Hall ran like gangbusters, got the green light to go home, and beat the throw to score the go-ahead run.

With her team having given her the lead, Fortune wasn't going to be denied in the seventh, striking out the hard-hitting Shelly Nichols and retiring the final two batters in the seventh to pick up the victory and improve to 22-5 on the season.

"Amanda did a terrific job tonight, giving up just four hits against a pretty good hitting team," Sullivan said. "Janna called a great game and Amanda stayed aggressive and went after each hitter."

The win helped Illinois, 32-8 overall and 7-3 in the Big Ten, keep pace with the Big Ten leaders Michigan (8-1) and Iowa (8-2), who also won tonight. Minnesota and Illinois split the first two years, but the Illini go for the sweep Saturday at Noon.