Pepper Gay recorded her 16th career shutout in the 10-0 victory over the Spartans.
April 28, 2013
East Lansing, Mich. - The Fighting Illini tallied 10 hits, including the first grand of the season, to provide plenty of run support for senior pitcher Pepper Gay, who hurled her 16th career shutout as the Orange and Blue completed the series sweep of Michigan State with a 10-0 victory in six innings. After struggling early in the conference season, the Illini have now won eight-straight games and captured three Big Ten series sweeps. Illinois improves to 19-25 (9-11 Big Ten), while the Spartans drop to 21-23 (7-9 Big Ten).
"We fed a little bit off of what we were able to do at Iowa with our bats," said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "We had a lot of people contributing and picking each other up. We're having higher quality at bats than we were having earlier in the year and again some good pitching.
"That's what you need at this time of the year; you need consistency on offense and defense. We've matured so much on playing in the moment and playing in the game that you have before you, so I'm excited about what they did here. We feel good about playing as a team, and now we move on to the next one."
Illinois continued to do what it has throughout the winning streak, spreading hits and runs throughout the lineup while holding steady on defense. Kylie Johnson, Jessica Davis, Allie Bauch and Jenna Mychko all tallied multiple hits, and Remeny Perez smacked the first Illini grand slam of the year.
"Offensively, our lineup was seeing the ball well throughout the weekend, and JD did a great job of getting us on the board early," said Sullivan. "Then the hitting got contagious."
Alex Booker walked three times, scored twice and stole a pair of bases, becoming the third Illini in school history to register 20 steals in a season; her .952 percentage (20-21) ties Danielle Zymkowitz's 2009 efficiency for second place, behind only Zymkowitz's record-setting 36-for-37 in 2010.
"Hitting-wise it's been really great," said senior pitcher Pepper Gay. "It's really nice as a pitcher to have run support, because you're more comfortable out there."
Gay twirled her 16th career shutout in the circle, allowing five hits and four walks but stranding all 10 runners allowed, striking out four.
"I just really wanted to be aggressive and go after them and not walk their hitters," said Gay, "because I know that if I go after them I can get them out."
"Pepper went out to the mound with a sense of purpose from the get-go," said Sullivan, "and that's what a team needs to see in the circle on a Sunday."
Kelly Smith recorded her third loss of the series after allowing the first six runs on three hits and four walks in 2.2 innings, striking out two. Dani Goranson looked strong in relief, but allowed the grand slam in the sixth for a total of seven hits, three walks and four runs in 3.0 innings. Carly Nielsen walked a batter then recorded the final out of the sixth.
McKinzie Freimuth went 2-for-3 at the plate including a leadoff triple in the sixth, but no Spartan was able to get past third base.
The Illini took an early lead in the top of the second, as Perkins drew a leadoff walk and Davis nailed a two-run shot well past the wall in left. Bauch kept it going with a double to the warning track in left field, and after advancing to third on a wild pitch, she scored on a sacrifice fly by Katie Repole, making it 3-0 Illini.
Illinois put up three more runs in the top of the third with two-out RBIs from Bauch and Mychko. Booker started it off with a walk and her 19th stolen base of the season. Jess Perkins drew her second walk, and Perez was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Smith got Davis to pop up in foul territory for the second out, but was unable to get out of the jam, as Bauch knocked in a pair of runs on a single to left. Goranson replaced her in the circle, but allowed an RBI single to Mychko before recording the third out, as Illinois pushed ahead 6-0.
The Orange and Blue put the game in run-rule territory in the top of the sixth. Johnson began the frame with her second hit, then tabbed stolen base number 17. Brittany Sanchez moved her to third, and Goranson loaded the bases by walking Booker and hitting Perkins with a pitch. Perez then drilled the first pitch she saw over the wall in center for her first career grand slam to take a double-digit lead over the Spartans.
McKinzie Freimuth tripled to leadoff the bottom of the sixth on a high fly ball that Johnson could not track down in deep right field. However, Gay bared down and retired the next two batters. After surrendering a full count walk to Thomas, Gay sealed the deal with a strikeout of McBride to record the 16th complete-game shutout of her career.
"I'm really proud of the team, that we're coming around and finishing strong," Gay said. "We know that the season's not over yet, and we can control it."
After playing 11 straight Big Ten games, the Illini will face Southern Illinois on Wednesday in the final non-conference matchup of the regular season. The Orange and Blue take on the Salukis in Carbondale at 4 p.m. on May 1, before returning home to host Ohio State in the final series of the 2013 regular season.