Illini Earn Series Win at No. 22 Michigan with Doubleheader Split
April 29, 2012
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Illinois softball earned a series victory at No. 22 Michigan's Alumni Field on Sunday afternoon, falling in game one, 2-1 before shutting out the Wolverines in the series finale, 2-0. Junior catcher Stephanie Cuevas finished the first contest 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored on a seventh-inning homer. Junior starting pitcher Pepper Gay shut out Michigan in the second contest with a complete game effort while freshman third baseman Jess Perkins went 3-for-3, scoring both Illinois runs.
"I really wish our fans could have seen all three of these games," Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said. "We really played `Illini Softball' this weekend, they were exciting games, all pressure-filled and we had to go on the road to do this. I am proud of the team effort to take two against a well-respected and strong Michigan team. It's a great accomplishment for everyone on this team."
Game One: No. 22 Michigan 2, Illinois 1
Illinois cut its deficit in half during the top of the seventh in an attempt to mount a last-frame comeback. Cuevas earned the first collegiate home run of the catcher's career, sending a 2-1 pitch over the fence in left-center field. The Orange and Blue continued to pressure for the tying run in their final chances at the plate, as freshman center fielder Brittany Sanchez followed with a base hit to second. After Sanchez was called out on a stolen base attempt, redshirt-senior right fielder Danielle Vaji drew a walk before sophomore left fielder Alex Booker singled to shortstop.
With runners on first and second and one down in the seventh, redshirt-junior Jessica Davis grounded into a fielder's choice at third base, with Vaji out at third on the play, Booker moving to second and Davis taking over at first. Senior first baseman Meredith Hackett stepped to the plate next and battled through a nine-pitch at bat after falling behind, 0-2 on three straight foul balls. After taking a pitch outside, Hackett followed by fouling off three consecutive Sara Driesenga offerings to stay alive before taking another one off the plate to even the count at 2-2. On the ninth pitch, Hackett chopped a high-bouncing ground ball over the head of Driesenga; however, shortstop Amy Knapp was playing near second base and snagged the ball before touching second for the force out to end the contest.
The Orange and Blue challenged Michigan's staff and defense early in the contest. Illinois put runners in scoring position in the top of the first, courtesy of a pair of back-to-back singles. With one away, Davis grounded a hard single through the middle of the infield before Hackett knocked a base hit through the right side of the infield. After Perkins moved both runners up with a ground out to third base, sophomore designated player Jenna Mychko grounded a ball in front of the plate, with catcher Lauren Sweet throwing to first baseman Amanda Chidester for the out.
The Orange and Blue continued to pressure in the second, tallying a pair of base runners with two outs in the frame. Sanchez singled to second base, her third hit of the series. Vaji, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, followed with a full-count, eight-pitch walk to advance Sanchez to second. However, Booker grounded out to Steph Kirkpatrick at third to send the contest to the bottom of the frame.
Jackie Guy suffered the tough loss in the circle, dropping to 5-10 on the season while limiting Michigan to six hits and three walks over six innings of work, striking out three Wolverines.
"Jackie was great for us in throwing the second game of our series," Sullivan said. "We just didn't get the job done we need to on offense during that contest."
Wagner tallied the win, improving to 24-5 on the year with seven hits and two walks allowed in 6 1/3 innings while Driesenga recorded the final two outs to secure the save, the freshman's third on the season.
Game Two: Illinois 2, No. 22 Michigan 0
"It was just adrenaline, everyone was pumped up and excited to be here," said Perkins of played No. 22 Michigan on the road. "Everyone was hitting and getting base hits can become contagious. We went out there ready to play this weekend and I just wanted to do well for the team."
The Orange and Blue doubled their advantage in the fourth, reaching the final score in the process. Perkins led off the inning with the freshman's 10th double of the season, moved to third on a dropped third strike with Sanchez at the plate and scored on a wild pitch during Vaji's at bat that followed.
Michigan (33-15, 13-5) was prepared to cut into the Illini lead in the bottom of the fifth, putting runners on the corners with one out. Gay responded with a strikeout swinging of Nicole Sappingfield before Schkade came up with a clutch defensive play to record the third out.
"Our pitchers really were top-notch and put together some of the best innings they have had all season long facing a very aggressive Michigan lineup," Sullivan said. "Michigan led the conference in hitting during Big Ten games, so to be really composed and trust your pitches on the road in an environment that is not fan-friendly for the Illini, Pepper and Jackie were great."
Chidester followed Sappingfield with a hard-hit ground ball up the middle, to the right side of second base. Schkade ranged to her right and sprawled out to snag the ball. With the speedy Bree Evans sprinting toward second, Schkade braced herself on the ground with her free hand and, with her glove side, shoveled the ball to Davis at second to end the frame.
Gay earned her 18th win of the season with a complete-game shutout, striking out five while allowing four walks and four hits. Gay's total-contest effort marked the 42nd of the junior's Illini career, moving Gay ahead of Sherri Taylor (2001-04) for second place all-time on the program listing.
"Coach had them scouted really well and knew what to throw them, so I just had to execute the game plan," Gay said. "Our defense played well behind me and got the outs that we needed to contribute to the team's success."
Driesenga started in the circle for Michigan, pitching 3 1/3 innings while allowing one unearned run on four hits and one walk, taking the loss to fall to 8-10 on the year. Wagner tossed the other 3 2/3 innings on the contest, also giving up four hits while allowing an earned run and striking out four batters.
The Orange and Blue will host Southern Illinois in their next contest, facing the Salukis at Eichelberger Field on Wednesday, May 2 at 4 p.m. CT.
"Alex Booker was a really big leader to open the series as our leadoff batter, Brittany Sanchez, Jess Perkins and Jami Schkade, really came on and stepped up their game," Sullivan said. "We hit the ball well and defended some very tough plays that came our way. It is tough in the Big Ten to get roads wins, but we want to build on this as we come home."
Game Notes: Perkins' 10th double of the season moved the freshman into sole possession for the most on the team this season, ahead of senior third baseman Kelley Wedel, who is out with an injured hand ... With both pitchers appearing in the starting lineup, Driesenga left the circle the first time with one out in the second before returning with two away in the fourth and leaving against with two down in the sixth frame ... The three runs scored by Michigan in the three-game series marks their least productive offensive performance in a Big Ten series this season (Previous low: seven runs in three games vs. Minnesota) ... The pair of victories marks the first time the Illini earned a pair of wins against Michigan as the Big Ten is in its first year of three-game conference series.