Rightfielder Hope Howell went 4-for-5 with three RBIs to lead the Illini to a 15-14 victory over Indiana.
April 26, 2008
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - The Illinois softball team (28-27, 7-9 Big Ten) exploded for eight runs in the seventh inning to rally from a 6-3 deficit before home runs from rightfielder Hope Howell and shortstop Angelena Mexicano capped off a 15-14 extra-inning victory over the Indiana Hoosiers (14-33, 4-12 Big Ten) on Saturday afternoon at the IU Softball Field. Leftfielder Hollie Pinchback also went deep and finished the day 2-for-3 with four RBIs, while Mexicano and Howell added three RBIs apiece.
With the trio of RBIs, Mexicano set a new school record with 56 RBIs in a single season. The senior shortstop also crossed the plate twice on the day, giving her 57 runs scored on the season, surpassing the record of 56 which she set last season.
"I truly believe it's the most resilient, persevering performance I've ever been a part of as a coach," head coach Terri Sullivan said. "I'm really proud of the resiliency our team had, especially after the heartbreaking loss from yesterday, and how they persevered and kept coming back. Sometimes a team just has to know what's there for them that day, what to count on and not fool yourself that you're going to win another way other than scoring a lot of runs. That's what we needed to today. We were able to separate our offense from the rest of our game and it was a terrific contest."
Illinois trailed 6-1 through the first five innings before adding a pair of runs and remained behind by three runs until the game turned into a seesaw affair in the late innings as 20 of the 29 combined runs were scored in the final two innings. The two teams combined for 30 hits and each used three different pitchers, with 18 Illini and 17 Hoosiers seeing game action.
Starting pitcher Ashley Wright allowed five earned runs on five hits in two-thirds of an inning before Christine Christopoulos entered the game in relief. Christopoulos gave up one earned run on two hits through three and two-thirds innings, her longest outing of the season. Claire DeVreese (20-19) came on for two and two-thirds innings to pick up the victory despite allowing eight earned runs on six hits. Wright re-entered the game for the final inning and earned her first save of the season as she retired the Hoosiers in order in the eighth.
"Ashley was a completely different pitcher when she came back in the last inning," Sullivan said. "She showed great perseverance and courage to come back in after a rough showing. "To come in at the most critical time and throw aggressively to get some big outs for us, that shows how confident and how good she can be with a little more consistency."
The Illini jumped out to a 1-0 lead when second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz led off the game with a double down the leftfield line. Third baseman Shanna Diller singled her home to put the Illini on the board.
Illinois wouldn't hold the lead for long, as Indiana responded with five runs in the bottom half of the inning. The Hoosiers used three base-hits and a pair of home runs for the five-spot.
The two teams battled through three scoreless innings as Indiana held on to the 5-1 advantage. The Illini threatened in the third, loading the bases thanks to a fielder's choice, single and error, but Illinois was unable to capitalize on the opportunity as all three runners were stranded.
Down 6-1 in the sixth after the Hoosiers had tacked on another run in the fifth, rightfielder Hope Howell led off the inning with a single before leftfielder Hollie Pinchback took the first pitch she saw over the rightfield wall to cut Indiana's lead to three. The home run marked the 13th time in Illinois' last 15 games that the Illini have gone deep at least once.
"Hope was a great leader at the plate today," Sullivan said. "She really refused to let our team down."
The Orange and Blue kept fighting and it paid off in the top of the seventh as they produced eight runs to re-take the lead. Shortstop Angelena Mexicano led off the inning with a double and later scored when Howell poked a single through the left side of the infield. Trailing by a run, Pinchback delivered again, this time with a double the gap in right-center to score two more runs and give the Illini a 7-6 lead. Pinch hitter Bailey Behrens followed with a bases-clearing triple to the rightfield corner to make it 9-6 and catcher Lana Armstrong smacked a two-RBI single later in the inning for the final two runs of the inning.
Indiana refused to go quietly though, putting up five runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at 11. The Hoosiers used a two-RBI single and a three-run homer to send the game into extra innings, the first of the season for the Illini.
The Orange and Blue carried their momentum into the eighth frame, as Howell collected her fourth hit of the day, a leadoff home run over the rightfield wall. With two on and two out, Mexicano added what proved to be the game-winning runs, as she belted her conference-leading 21st home run of the season to put Illinois on top, 15-11.
Not to be outdone, Hoosier shortstop Emily Bergeson hit her third home run of the day, a three-run shot in the bottom of the eighth to bring Indiana within a run. But Wright came in and put a stop to the Hoosier rally to seal Illinois' 15-14 victory.
The Illini wrap up their final roadtrip of the regular season at Purdue on Sunday with a doubleheader beginning at noon ET/11 a.m. CT.