Kisten Martin was 3-for-4 with a home run in game two vs. PSU.
April 22, 2007
Urbana, Ill. - Funny thing happed Sunday at Eichelberger Field. Illinois found itself down 5-1 late in the game to Penn State in game two of the teams' doubleheader. But the crowd of 818 didn't have a mass exodus. Why you ask? Just a week ago, Illinois came back from 3-0 down in the seventh inning to stun No. 8 Michigan 5-3 in eight innings. They knew with this powerful Illinois offense, anything is possible.
Illinois didn't disappoint. For the second straight Sunday Illinois came roaring back to win, using a five-run sixth inning to pull out a 7-5 victory over the Nittany Lions, who entered the week second in the Big Ten and were getting votes in the national polls. The Lions went 0-2 against both Illinois and Iowa to fall to eighth in the league.
With the wind playing havoc with pop ups and blowing straight out, the nation's leading home run team surely used the long ball to punish its opponent, right?. As matter of fact, Illinois hit just one home run in the sweep, instead using station-to-station softball and gap shots to do the damage. Six of the seven Illinois runs in the game scored on two-out hits. Of Illinois' 13 hits in the contest, 10 were singles and two were doubles.
In game one, a 4-3 Illinois victory, the Illini scored two runs in the fourth inning on sacrifice flies, while delivering just one extra base hit, a double from Makenzie Smith.
"I'm glad that's how the wins came," said Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan afterward. "We've had a lot of victories on the long ball. However, we are also capable of executing different things and putting hits together. That's what it was really about today."
The wins were huge for Illinois (7-5, 28-18) in positioning for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments with five games against ranked teams and two more at suddenly sizzling Iowa left on the schedule. The Illini are fifth in the conference, just a game behind the Hawkeyes for fourth. In the past five seasons, the conference has had six teams invited to the NCAA four times, and five made it in the other year.
To be fair, Kisten Martin's (3-for-4) solo home run started the rally in the sixth, but from there, it was just solid contact. Katrina Ross, now hitting .500 after coming back from a foot injury this week, kept things going with a single up the middle. Molly Lawhead reached on an error and later scored on a throwing error.
Sarah Bryers singled, giving Illinois four straight base runners without an out. After two straight force plays at the plate, Shanna Diller and Lana Armstrong provided the firepower. Diller singled to left, scoring Bryers and Lana Armstrong delivered the go-ahead two-run double to the gap, giving Illinois a 6-5 lead.
Hope Howell (3-for-4) singled up the middle with two outs, scoring Lawhead to give the Illini an insurance run in the seventh. Ashley Wright (10-8) gave up just two hits and a walk in tossing 4 2/3 innings of shutout ball in relief.
Howell and Wright were also instrumental in the first-game victory that went down to the final at-bat. Wright gave up just two earned runs in six innings, while Howell made two amazing plays in right field, including a shoe-string catch with two runners on in the Penn State seventh to clinch the victory for the Illini.
"We were disappointed in not coming away with one against Ohio State," said Sullivan, whose team dropped two heartbreaking one-run games to the first-place Buckeyes Friday and Saturday. "Every game in the Big Ten is such a battle. Sweeps are tough in the conference and victories are tough this time of year. We did what we needed to do today and I'm proud of my team for that."
In game two, Hillary Haines did all the offensive damage for Penn State (21-17, 3-5), who left 11 runners on base in the contest. Haines hit a grand-slam homer in the first and delivered a run-scoring single in the third as the Lions took a four-run lead. Smith doubled home a run from Illinois in its half of the third inning.
Penn State hurler Ashley Esparza walked six batters in the opening game. Two of those came in to score on RBI singles from Martin and Lawhead, respectively.
Illinois travels to Eastern Illinois for a doubleheader Tuesday and hosts Western Illinois (Wednesday) and DePaul (Saturday) in non-conference single games.