Kacey Coonce had four RBI and picked up the pitching victory in game vs. Eastern Illinois.
April 26, 2006
Urbana, Ill. - Talk Illinois softball these days and the first person who naturally comes to mind has been USA Player of the Year candidate Jenna Hall. Tuesday Hall continued her assault on the nation's batting title, but it was her teammates that stole the show in a doubleheader sweep of Eastern Illinois.
Junior Kisten Martin, who ranks only behind teammate Angelena Mexicano for the Big Ten lead in RBI during the conference season, drove in four runs as Illinois took the opener 5-3. Martin was 3-for-4 with a double and four RBI in the opener and 1-for-3 with a double in the second game giving her 27 RBI for the season.
"Kisten has really settled into the designated player role and is doing great things with confidence and consistency," said Illinois Head Coach Terri Sullivan.
In the nightcap, freshman Kacey Coonce took center stage. Coonce drove in all four Illinois runs, going 2-for-2 with a home run, a double, and a run scored as the Illini held on to win 4-3. Coonce (6-11) was also strong in the circle, retiring nine in a row at one point and striking out three in 5.1 innings pitched to record the victory.
"Kacey Coonce is a great hitter," Sullivan said of her freshman. "She's going to do some awesome things in an Illinois uniform. She has been a little frustrated that her numbers weren't that great, but she is still getting RBI for us. Today our fans saw the real Kacey Coonce."
Claire DeVreese (17-13) gave up just four hits in seven innings pitched in the opener in recording her third straight complete-game victory, then came in and tossed 1.2 innings of scoreless, hitless softball to post her second save of the season in game two.
Illinois improves to 23-25 overall heading into Friday's nationally televised game at defending national champion Michigan. EIU drops to 27-24-1. The Illini are also 9-0 all-time against the Panthers. Illinois has been playing some great softball of late, going 9-4 in its last 13 games, including 6-1 in its last seven Big Ten games. The Illinois-Michigan game will be televised live on ESPNU at 5 p.m. Friday with the two teams wrapping up the series Saturday at Noon CST. The Illini play at Michigan State, a team just a ½ game in front of Illinois for fifth in the league, Sunday in a doubleheader.
"Every weekend is important from this point forward," Sullivan said. "We love it. We feel we are playing pretty well this time of the year, so why not play the best?"
Hall went about her business quietly, going 3-for-4 with a three of walks to improve her national-leading average to .514, which, if she can keep it up, would set a Big Ten record, and her nation's best walk total to 55. Hall's on-base percentage is now .684.
The Illini had to be at their best because they got two competitive games from Eastern Illinois. Not only did Coonce and Martin shine, but a pair of defensive plays in the nightcap was critical in holding on to the victory.
In the first game, Eastern struck first. A lead-off home run from shortstop Chelsea Adams, which was her team-record 16th of her career, and a two-out RBI double from starting pitcher Kathleen Jacoby made it 2-0 Panthers.
Illinois rebounded with two runs in the bottom of the first, on a two-out, two-run Martin single, then went ahead for good with a three spot in the second. Martin again game through again with two outs, providing a two-run double. Molly Lawhead followed with an RBI single to make it 5-2 Illinois in a game that was starting out to be a slugfest.
Both pitchers settled down, however. DeVreese retired 11 in a row in the middle innings and did not allow another hit until the seventh, when EIU plated a run to account for the final score.
Coonce's three-run home run in the bottom of the second inning gave Illinois a 3-0 lead in the second game. In the fourth, Lawhead tripled to left field and scored on Coonce's double to make it 4-0. Illini Coonce allowed just three hits and no runs through five innings, but gave up a three-run home run to Sandyn Short in the sixth, which cut the deficit to one run.
Altbough DeVreese pitched 1.2 innings, she technically only had to retire two batters. Illinois, who entered the game sixth in the nation in double plays, turned a routine 6-4-3 twin killing in the fifth, then in the sixth with a runner on, Sarah Bryers caught a fly in right and doubled off the runner at first to end in the inning.
In the seventh, EIU got the lead-off batter aboard, but had her picked off by catcher Brittany Koester. The next batter was hit by a pitch, advanced to second on a wild pitch and to third on a ground out to represent the tying run at third with two outs. She tried to score on what would have been another wild pitch, but Koester dove for her and tagged her out to end the game.
"What's impressive is Brittany and Sarah being ready when called upon," Sullivan said of Koester and Bryers who were defensive replacements.