Two-Out Rally Paces Illini in 8-6 Win Over Purdue
April 22, 2012
URBANA, Ill. - The Illini softball squad earned a series-securing win over Purdue behind early-innings offense that included a grand slam from senior first baseman Meredith Hackett, taking the Sunday afternoon finale of the three-game set, 8-6, at Eichelberger Field. Hackett finished 2-for-4 with a run scored and four RBIs while redshirt-senior left fielder Danielle Vaji added a two-run double and junior relief pitcher Jackie Guy tossed three shutout innings to earn the save.
"We are excited about how we are playing right now," Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said. "You can see the offense has come alive. Week-by-week it has been inching back and I think now we are approaching every inning aggressively both offensively and defensively and we are trying to win each individual inning. We are seeing good team offense with a couple different players stepping up. Today, it was a big momentum grabber to have Meredith hit the grand slam. Great players get that distinction of being great by doing something big under pressure. She obviously did that for us today and stole momentum from them in the process."
The Boilermakers (28-15 overall, 10-4 Big Ten) struck for an early lead with a pair of runs in the top of the first. Leadoff hitter Molly Garst knocked a line-drive home run over the right field wall before Lindsey Rains added an RBI-single three batters later to double the Purdue lead.
However, the Orange and Blue (21-21, 5-10) offense rallied immediately, plating three runs with two away in the bottom of the opening frame to go in front, 3-2. With one out, redshirt-junior shortstop Jessica Davis reached safely on a throwing error by Purdue third baseman Tori Chiodo, moving to second on a ground out by Hackett before freshman third baseman Jess Perkins earned a walk. Vaji followed with a first-pitch double off the base of the left field wall, tying the contest with Davis and Perkins scoring on the play. After Vaji moved to third on the throw home from Purdue left fielder Maia Monchek during the two-run double, freshman second baseman Jami Schkade continued the two-out scoring streak with a single through the left side of the infield, plating Vaji for the 3-2 advantage.
Purdue was primed to re-take the lead during the top of the second inning, with a pair of runners on first and second and one out, only to have the Illini outfield secure two athletic plays to keep the Boilermakers scoreless. Chiodo knocked a fly ball to deep left field, with the 20 MPH sustained winds causing the play to tail away from Vaji and drift toward the left field line. Vaji was able to adjust to the flight of the ball however, and secured a sprinting, over-the-shoulder grab on the warning track for the second out. Garst followed Chiodo's at bat and sent a pitch toward the gap in left-center field, only to have sophomore center fielder Alex Booker hustle 20 yards to make a running grab with her glove arm out-stretched to her right.
Hackett helped the Illini break the contest open with a grand slam in the following inning, taking a 7-2 lead in the process. Down in an 0-2 count, junior catcher Stephanie Cuevas connected for a looping single that landed inches inside of the right field foul line. After freshman Lauren Loies took over at first as a pinch runner, senior right fielder Nikki Simpson dropped a bunt single to Lexy Moore in the circle before Booker walked to load the bases with no one away. Two batters later, Hackett drove her 41st career home run to right field, with the ball clipping the orange padding on the top of the wall as it cleared the fence.
The Boilermakers chipped away at their deficit with two runs each in the third and fourth frames to pull within one run of tying the contest. In the third, Danielle Fletcher drew a bases-loaded walk and Monchek hit a sacrifice fly ball to right field. In the following inning, Andie Varsho sent an RBI-single down the right field line and Ashley Courtney added a sacrifice fly out to Simpson for Purdue's sixth run.
Looking to hold the two-run lead in the top of the fifth, Guy took to the circle in relief of starting pitcher Pepper Gay, who improved to 16-12 while allowing six runs - four earned - on five hits and six walks, striking out two over the first four innings. Guy was masterful in the circle to keep Purdue's Big Ten-leading offense in check over the remainder of the contest, using 31 pitches to get through three innings with only one hit allowed against a trio of strikeouts.
"I liked how pepper and Jackie teamed up for the victory," Sullivan said. "Pepper gave us the innings she could today and fought through to get that final strikeout before she was relieved, and it was big in the fourth inning that she stranded Purdue's runner at third. I thought that was a critical point in the game, and then Jackie came in with a great approach, she wanted the ball and she threw her pitches well."
Illinois tallied an insurance run in the bottom of the fourth to reach the final score, 8-6. Davis led off with a double to center field, moving to third on a ground out by Hackett. Two batters after Perkins walked to put runners on the corners, Schkade added a base on balls to bring freshman center fielder Brittany Sanchez to bat. With Sanchez at the plate, Purdue relief pitcher Katie Hackney tossed a wild pitch that allowed Davis to slide home safely.
Moore took the loss for Purdue, dropping to 19-7 on the year with seven runs allowed - four earned - on five hits and four walks over two innings pitched, failing to strike out a batter. Katie Hackney pitched the remainder of the game for the Boilermakers, going four innings with one run allowed on two hits and two walks, striking out five.
Illinois heads to Chicago to continue midweek action against in-state opposition, with first pitch at approximately 4 p.m. CT for a Tuesday, April 24 contest at DePaul (26-17).
Game Notes: Hackett's grand slam in the second was the first since Davis hit one against Temple during the ESPN Citrus Classic in Kissimmee, Fla., on March 4, 2011, and the 22nd in program history. Hackett previous hit one other grand slam for the Orange and Blue, doing so against Houston on Feb. 20, 2009 ... Hackett hit .429 (3-for-7) with six RBIs, two runs scored and four walks drawn against Purdue, earning a 1.286 slugging percentage and .636 on-base percentage.