Illini Trounce No. 4 Michigan, 10-2, in Six Innings
April 25, 2014
Urbana, Ill. - The Fighting Illini softball team came out strong and never let up, slugging past No. 4 Michigan, 10-2, in six innings. Every Illini in the batting order put up at least one hit, as the Orange and Blue totaled 14 in the game, including four doubles. Freshman hurler Brandi Needham took care of business in the circle, allowing just one earned run over the full six innings, while the Illinois defense stranded 12 of Michigan's 14 baserunners.
"It felt great," said junior Brittany Sanchez, who was 3-for-4 with two doubles, two runs and three RBI. "Michigan is always a big rival for us, so we were really pumped and jacked to get this one. We came out really strong and it was just great to finally do it."
The upset of the No. 4 Wolverines marks the sixth time the Illini have taken down a top-10 team and the highest-ranked opponent Illinois has ever defeated. The Illini have historically had Michigan's number, as tonight's win marks the third time that the Orange and Blue have defeated a top-10 Michigan squad. The 10-2 win ties the highest margin of victory over a ranked opponent, matching Illinois' 8-0 win over No. 20 Louisville in five innings on Feb. 11, 2007.
The first-place Wolverines were looking to clinch the regular-season title and the No. 1 seed for the Big Ten Tournament, but will have to wait at least one more day, dropping to 37-9 (15-3 Big Ten). The win moves the Illini up two spots in the Big Ten standings, holding at 20-23 (4-14 Big Ten).
Every member of the Illini lineup had at least one hit in the game, led by Sanchez's three hits and three RBI. Ruby Rivera extended her hitting streak to 10 games by going 2-for-3 with a walk, two runs and an RBI, and Alex Booker was 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Jess Perkins, who dominated Michigan at the plate as a freshman, went 2-for-3 with a double, a run and three RBI. Remeny Perez singled, walked and was hit by her 11th pitch of the season, and Jenna Mychko hit an RBI single. Allie Bauch and Kylie Johnson both singled and scored at the top of the lineup, and Nicole Evans drove in the 10th and final run with an RBI double.
Brandi Needham (14-13) was fantastic in the circle, allowing just one earned run on five hits and a walk with two strikeouts over the complete six innings.
"I was just ready to go from the first pitch, warm-ups, practice, everything," said Needham "I was excited, ready to go for it, ready to get after it."
Sara Driesenga (5-4) got the start for the Wolverines, but left the circle with a pair of runners on base in the third. Haylie Wagner took over, but allowed both inherited runners to score, then gave up four runs, three earned, of her own on five hits and a walk over an inning and a third. Driesenga returned in the fourth, allowing the final four runs to score for a total of six runs allowed, four earned, on nine hits and one walk over three and two-thirds innings, striking out five.
Sierra Romero and Lauren Sweet accounted for four of the Wolverines' five hits, and Taylor Hasselbach doubled and scored a run. Driesenga drew the lone walk of the game, which drove in a run.
"We needed to be at our best today and have a complete game...we were able to deliver on that finally," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "Brandi had relentless determination and showed great leadership. Sanchez certainly had a day offensively, battling with two strikes. The intangibles that the team brought today however were big for us—enthusiasm, pride, and a team-first attitude. We will have to stay at the top of our game tomorrow and be even better."
Needham found herself in trouble early, as Michigan loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the second. Montemarano grounded to short as Rivera got the lead runner for the first out, but Dreisenga then worked a full count walk to drive in the first run of the game. However, that was all that the Wolverines would get in the inning, as Needham drew two more ground outs to escape the jam mostly unscathed.
The Illini took the lead in the bottom of the third on three hits, two Michigan errors and a sacrifice fly, chasing Driesenga from the circle after two batters. Johnson beat out a high chopper to short to get things going, and Booker slapped a sacrifice bunt that the third baseman skied into right field, as the pair arrived on second and third. Rivera and Sanchez then ripped back-to-back RBI singles to put Illinois ahead 2-1, and a sacrifice fly by Perkins tacked on some Illini insurance.
Michigan got one back in the top of the fourth, with the help of an Illini error and subsequent miscue, as Sappingfield grounded to short with runners on second and third and two outs; rather than throw to first, Rivera went to third, but Montemarano scored before the tag was made on Ramirez to cut the Illini lead in half.
Illinois used a two-out rally in the bottom of the fourth to extend its lead to 6-2. After the first two batters went out, Booker got things going with a single to left. Rivera singled, then Sanchez ripped a two-run double to center. Mychko then drove in Sanchez with a single up the middle to give Illinois a four-run lead.
The Illini tacked on an unearned run in the fifth, as Bauch singled, reached third on a passed ball and a wild pitch, then scored on an error by Romero at short off the bat of Booker to make it 7-2.
The Orange and Blue put the game away in the bottom of the sixth, sparked by a leadoff double by Sanchez. Perez was hit by a pitch, and Perkins followed with a two-run double to left center. Evans finished things off with an RBI double deep to straightaway center to complete the run-rule victory by a final score of 10-2.
"We just took it one pitch, one inning at a time," said Needham. "We have to be ready for it. I know they're going to come back with their best. We just have to butt heads and get back with it."
Next Up: Illinois closes out its home season with a doubleheader against No. 4 Michigan on Saturday, April 26, beginning at 1 p.m. Due to a weekend schedule change, Saturday will be both Alumni Day and Senior Day. Prior to the first game, the Orange and Blue will welcome back members of the storied 2004 Fighting Illini for the 10th anniversary of their successful season. Immediately following, the Illini will honor seniors Jenna Mychko and Alex Booker for their outstanding contributions over the past four years. Both ceremonies will take place prior to the first game.