The fans packed Eichelberger Field for the World's Largest Softball Tailgate
April 30, 2005
Urbana, Illl. - The day began early in the day for many fans on Saturday morning. A plethora of activities, a mostly sunny day, and a record crowd set the stage for Illinois' doubleheader with Minnesota. The Illini gave the record crow two late-inning rallies in a pair of victories over the Gophers winning 7-6 and 6-5. The World's Largest Softball Tailgate crowd was estimated at 2,100 outside the park, breaking last year's mark of 1,500.
In the first game, Illinois rallied for two runs in the sixth inning to go from 6-5 down to 7-6 in front. The Illini gave up two runs in the second, then rallied for five runs in the bottom of the second on four Minnesota errors. Minnesota regained the lead with a run in the fifth and two in the top of the sixth, setting up the Illini's sixth-inning heroics. Molly Lawhead drove home the game winner with a single scoring Jenna Hall after Julie Balicki tied the game with sacrifice fly sending Rachelle Coriddi into score.
In game two, Shanna Diller singled home the eventual winning run in the top of the seventh after Minnesota had tied it on a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth from Megan Higginbotham.
"I don't think there is another softball team in the country that experiences such an exciting atmosphere to play a doubleheader than what we had today," said Illinois Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "It's a testament to the community, the students, the faculty, and to Busey Bank for supporting us the way they did today. Sarah Baumgartner formed a committee that has been working on this event for a year. There's no doubt that the crowd gave us the momentum to get the job done today."
Minnesota out-hit Illinois in both games of the twinbill, but committed a combined nine errors that led to six unearned runs off Gophers started Lynn Peyer.
Offensively for Illinois, Lawhead was 3-for-4 in the first game, while Diller was 2-for-3 in the second game. Diller's clutch hitting was especially significant considering Hall, who hits in front of Diller in the order, was walked seven times in eight at-bats on the day.
In the circle, the Illini got some clutch relief pitching from both Mary Miller, who worked the final 1.1 innings of game one without giving up a run in improving to 14-9 on the season, and Claire DeVreese, who allowed just two hits in three-innings of relief to record the victory in the second contest.
After a thrilling victory in game one, Illinois wasted little time in getting on the board in the second game. Doubles from Diller and Coriddi provided the offense.
Minnesota came right back with two runs in the first and one in the second to take a 3-2 lead, but the Illini put a three-spot on the board in the top of the third to take a 5-3 lead. A pair of Minnesota errors, sacrifice flies off the bats of Balicki and Lawhead, and a Kisten Martin run-scoring single highlighted that inning.
The Illini worked out of a few jams with the Gophers leaving 10 runners on base, including the bases loaded in the first and fourth, and neither team scored after the third until Higginbotham's home run in the sixth. Lawhead snagged a line drive at second base and flipped to first for an inning-ending double play in the third.
The seventh inning began with walks to Butcher and Hall before Diller stroked the game winner. "Shanna really showed a lot of maturity at the plate in coming through in clutch situations," Sullivan said. "She is a gifted player with a lot of fight."
Between rain outs Illinois has won four games in a row and after improving to 22-23 overall and 3-11 in the Big Ten, heads into the final four games of the conference season with a shot at securing a spot in the eight-team Big Ten Tournament, although the Illini will need some help in doing so.
"Despite not playing games, we have had some great spirited practices," Sullivan said. "Although we have to take them one game at a time, our players know there isn't any margin for error."