No. 4 Michigan Takes Series with 6-5 Win in Finale

April 26, 2014

Game 1 Box Score (html) | Game 2 Box Score (html) | Photo Gallery

Urbana, Ill. - No. 4 Michigan bounced back after a rough series opener to claim the series with a decisive, 10-2, victory in game two, then a 6-5 win in the series finale. After surrendering six early runs, Illinois nearly pulled off their second upset in as many days, scoring three unanswered runs and loading the bases in two different innings, but missed opportunities cut the upset bid short in the rubber match. With the doubleheader sweep, Michigan improves to 39-9 (17-3 Big Ten), while Illinois slips to 20-25 (4-16 Big Ten).

"We made some needed strides in playing in playing better softball this weekend," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "We still have to bring our game to a consistent higher level as we head into this weekend, and now I am certain everyone on our team knows we can."

Prior to today's games, the Illini hosted two ceremonies, honoring the past, present and future of the Fighting Illini. The afternoon began with the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the 2004 Illinois softball team, who finished second in the Big Ten and reached the NCAA Regional Final. Nearly every member of the storied team was in attendance, bringing back great memories and inspiring current players and fans alike.

"We watched their highlight video before our game last night, actually, and that always gets us jacked," said senior Alex Booker. "I've seen it a couple times now, but I mean they're quite a tight team, and I know that every one of them had something to say about every other one of them out there. They were all all-stars. They all contributed to their success, so it was awesome having them out there and knowing that they're going to come back and support. Our alumni  system is top-notch."

"There's so many similarities with this team and with that team and all the teams that have been here since I've coached," said Assistant Coach Katie O'Connell, who was also a member of the 2004 Fighting Illini. "It's a family atmosphere and that's because it starts with Coach Sullivan and what she does; the type of people, the type of family she brings into this program...I was very fired up to see my old teammates here and for them to come here and support this team, because it's a great group of girls here."

After recognizing the talented alumni, the Illini in turn honored some of its own, as Booker and Jenna Mychko played their final games at Eichelberger Field. The pair of seniors is on par to preserve their names in the record books in several categories, while inspiring their teammates both on and off the field.

"It's been very emotional," said Mychko. "I have so much pride for this university. I love playing for the University of Illinois. I was really happy to come out here and play here with my sisters and compete for this school."

"Mychko and Booker mean a lot to me, my staff and their teammates," said Sullivan. "It was a special Senior Day. I know that our current team fed off of the great `feel' we had in seeing our 2004 team back. This was the best reunion ever here in our softball family."

"Don't remind me!" Booker joked, after being asked about her final home game. "No, it's nice knowing that I can come back here and I will always see a familiar face regardless if that be one from 2014 or one from 2004. It's nice knowing that we do have an alumni crew and that they all stay in touch, we're all going to stay in touch. This is a family, it really is at the end of the day."

Game 1: Michigan 10, Illinois 2 (6 inn.) | Box Score (PDF)

In a near mirror image of the series opener, No. 4 Michigan turned the tables on the Illini, using a six-run fourth inning to tie the series with a 10-2 victory in six innings. The Wolverines collected 13 hits and took advantage of five Illini errors, while Megan Betsa paced Michigan with a complete-game in the circle.

Allie Bauch was a bright spot for the Illini, reaching base all three times with a single, her first career triple and a walk, and scoring both of Illinois' runs. Kylie Johnson went 2-for-3 in the two hole with an RBI single, and Ruby Rivera walked and drove in the second Illini run with her third sacrifice fly of the season.

Michigan's leadoff batter, Lyndsay Doyle, was also the most productive hitter in her lineup, going 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI. Taylor Hasselbach put the game away for the Wolverines with a two-run shot in the fourth, scoring twice, and Sierra Romero went 2-for-4 with a run and an intentional walk.

Megan Betsa (13-3) went the distance in the circle for Michigan, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts over six innings. Shelese Arnold (5-10) got the starting nod for Illinois but gave up eight runs, five earned, on eight hits and two walks over the first three-and-a-third innings. Jade Vecvanags pitched two and two-thirds innings of relief, allowing two runs, one earned, on five hits and two walks.

Arnold found herself in a jam early, as the first three batters of the game reached on a pair of hits and a fielder's choice. Blanchard drilled a liner to center but right at Sanchez, sending Doyle home on the sacrifice fly, but that would be all that Michigan would get, due in large part to a diving grab by Perez at first.

Michigan added an unearned run in the second, as Montemarano led off on first due to an error by Rivera at short. Ramirez failed to execute the sacrifice bunt, as Perkins got the lead runner at second, but Ramirez followed with a stolen base. Sappingfield doubled through the right side off the diving gloves of both Perkins and Rivera, and Arnold intentionally walked Romero to load the bases. Ramirez then scored on a wild pitch, before Rivera made a nice play to finish out the inning.

Illinois cracked the scoreboard in the bottom of the third on a triple by Bauch, who was driven in with an RBI single from Johnson.

The Wolverines broke the game wide open in the top of the fourth, using five hits, including a three-run home run by Hasselbach, to put up six runs and take an 8-1 lead, bringing Vecvanags in to pitch. Vecvanags allowed a walk and a pair of singles, but Brittany Sanchez gunned Sweet down at the plate from center for the final out.

The Illini got one in the bottom of the fifth, kickstarted by a leadoff walk to Bauch. Johnson ripped a single to center, and Rivera drove her home with a sacrifice fly deep to the gap in left center.

Michigan added two in the top of the sixth on two hits, an Illini error, and a sacrifice fly on a pop up that took Rivera over the foul fence down the third base line, to make it 10-2 Wolverines and cut the game short.

Game 2: Michigan 6, Illinois 5 | Box Score (PDF)

After falling behind, 4-0, in the top of the first, Illinois made a strong come back, scoring three unanswered runs and putting the tying run on second with no outs in the seventh, but No. 4 Michigan was able to hold of Illinois, taking the series with a 6-5 victory in the finale.

For the second straight game, Bauch and Johnson led the Illini offense, combining for four hits and two runs. Bauch could not make an out all day, going 2-for-2 with two walks and a run scored in game two, and Johnson was 2-for-3 with a run. Booker singled, walked and drove in a run, and Rivera walked and drove in two runs, including her third sacrifice fly of the season. Mychko doubled to lead off the seventh, and Perez singled, was hit by her 13th pitch of the year, and scored a run. Perkins picked up Illinois' remaining hit, and Evans scored a run.

Brandi Needham went the distance in the circle, allowing six runs, three earned, on seven hits and a walk with two strikeouts. After allowing the sixth run on a two-run homer in the second, Needham retired 13 straight batters, not allowing another baserunner until the top of the seventh.

All three Wolverine hurlers made it into the game, as ace Haylie Wagner lasted three-and-a-third, allowing four runs, two earned, on six hits and a walk with two strikeouts. Megan Betsa (14-3) earned her second win of the day, allowing one run on two hits and three walks with a strikeout in two and two-thirds innings. Sara Driesenga entered in the bottom of the seventh, earning her fourth save of the season by getting three outs on just two batters faced.

Nicole Sappingfield led Michigan at the plate, going 2-for-4 with two runs, and Sierra Lawrence hit a two-run home run and scored twice.

Michigan carried its momentum into game two, scoring four runs, one earned, on a leadoff error, four hits and a sacrifice fly.

Illinois responded with two runs in the bottom of the first, as the top of the order kept their bats hot as well. Bauch led off with a walk, and Johnson singled to left. The pair advanced on a passed ball, and Booker drove in the first run with an RBI single through the left side. Rivera then tabbed an RBI ground out to cut the deficit to two.

Sappingfield singled to center to start the second, and Lawrence put the Wolverines back up by four with a two-run blast to center.

The Illini replied once again in the bottom of the second, scoring a pair of unearned runs to cut the lead back to two. Perez got it started with a single to left, and Evans was hit by a pitch. Bauch loaded the bases with a single through the right side, and Booker then grounded to short, but Romero misplayed the hop, allowing two runs to score.

Illinois had a chance to tie the score in the bottom of the fourth with bases loaded and one out. Rivera ripped a grounder down the third base line, but a great grab by Montemarano robbed her of potential extra bases as she turned two to end the inning.

For the second-straight inning, the Illini loaded the bases with one out in the fifth. Booker popped up for out number two, but Rivera worked a full-count walk to drive in Perkins, who had led off with a single up the middle. Sanchez then roped a liner to center but right at Doyle as the Illini headed to the seventh trailing, 6-5.

After surrendering the home run in the second, Needham retired 13-straight Wolverines, until Doyle finally made it to first with a leadoff single on a swinging bunt in the top of the seventh. Michigan would go on to load the bases, but Needham got a clutch strikeout and a pop up to strand three.

Mychko led off the bottom of the seventh with a double to the warning track in left. Danielle Trezzo came in to pinch run, and Michigan brought in Driesenga to pitch. Perez grounded back to the Driesenga, who looked Trezzo back, then threw to first. As soon as she saw the throw was going to first, Trezzo started to lead further off second, drawing the throw, and Christner fired over to second and got her on the way back, stifling the Illini's momentum, and ending their bid to make a comeback in the seventh.

Next Up: The Illini close out the regular season with a trip to Happy Valley to face Penn State in a three-game series on May 2-4.  The series opener is set for 5 p.m. CT on Friday, May 2, followed by a 2 p.m. CT game on Saturday and a 9:30 a.m. CT finale on Sunday. All three games will be streamed live on the Big Ten Digital Network.