Illini Softball Rallies Past Southern Illinois, 3-2
May 2, 2012
URBANA, Ill. - Starting pitcher Pepper Gay notched the junior's 20th victory of the season with a complete game performance, while senior designated player Kelley Wedel returned from a hand injury to double and score the eventual winning run as the Illini rallied by Southern Illinois, 3-2, at Eichelberger Field on Wednesday afternoon. The come-from-behind victory marked the 10th on the season for Illinois, with Wedel's return to the lineup coming after the senior missed 19 games due to a hand injury sustained in practice.
"Kelly looked and felt great at practice yesterday," Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said. "She's one of the leaders of our team. I believe in her as a hitter and a player, and she's always ready to go. She's been itching to get back out there and wanted to come back a lot sooner than today, but she's a tough kid."
Trailing, 1-0 through 2 1/2 innings, Illinois erased the deficit with one run in the third and two more in the fourth to go ahead of the Salukis, 3-1. During the third, sophomore left fielder Alex Booker drew a walk, advanced to third on a single by redshirt-junior shortstop Jessica Davis and sprinted home on a wild pitch by Southern Illinois starter Brittney Lang.
In the following inning, freshman center fielder Brittany Sanchez reached on a fielding error by shortstop Haley Gorman ahead of a double to left-center by Wedel to put two runners in scoring position with no one out.
"I am pretty headstrong and I told myself I was going to come back," said Wedel of returning to the lineup after the injury-related absence. "It would have taken five people to tell me not to, and I just wanted to show my team that I could physically do it."
Two batters later, freshman second baseman Jami Schkade connected for a first-pitch RBI-single to left field to put Illinois in front, 2-1. After Schkade stole second, redshirt-senior Danielle Vaji drew a walk, the 28th issued to the right fielder on the year. With the bases loaded, Wedel scored from third when Booker grounded into a fielder's choice, extending the Orange and Blue lead to 3-1.
The Salukis attempted a comeback of their own in the top of the seventh, notching an RBI-double by Orsburn to pull within one of tying. However, the Illinois defense stifled the rally attempt one batter later, as Schkade snagged a VadeBoncouer line drive headed up the middle with a diving catch for the final out of the contest.
Back-to-back one-out doubles by Mallory Duran-Sellers and Kelsea Ashton put Southern Illinois ahead, 1-0, in the third; however, Gay settled in to hold the explosive Salukis lineup to just one tally in the frame. With Ashton on second following the sophomore's two-base hit, Gay recorded ground outs by Taylor Orsburn to third and Allie VadeBoncouer to first to leave the runner in scoring position.
Gay (20-13) threw her 20th complete game of the year to earn the win, allowing six hits and four walks while striking out six with two earned runs given up.
"Pepper's performance was critical," Sullivan said. "Southern Illinois has a very strong offense. Their hitters are very strong in the middle of their lineup. She threw well and was able to control their at-bats. She located her pitches well and kept them guessing by hitting both sides of the plate. She stayed very composed, even early on when they had back-to-back doubles. She threw some very good pitches. It was a key game for us, and she was able to bear down and be our leader out there."
Lang (10-5) took the loss with 3 2/3 innings in the circle, giving up all three runs - two earned - on three hits and four walks, striking out two. Katie Bertelsen entered in relief of Lang in the fourth frame, issuing one walk in 2 1/3 innings pitched to close the contest.
Illinois concludes the home portion of its schedule with a Big Ten series against Penn State (17-27, 8-10), which includes World's Largest Softball Tailgate IX and Senior Day. World's Largest Softball Tailgate will feature live music, inflatable games, face painting and a free t-shirt for the first 150 fans into the stadium, with the Orange and Blue completing a doubleheader in tandem with the event, beginning at 1 p.m. CT on May 5. Senior Day follows on Sunday, May 6, with Illinois recognizing its graduating class prior to the 10:30 a.m. CT first pitch. Sunday's contest will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network, while admission and parking are free on both days.
Game Notes: Wedel returned to the lineup and occupied the designated player spot for Illinois against SIU after missing 19 games due to a right hand injury sustained in practice prior to the series at Iowa (March 31-April 1) ... Wedel went 1-for-3 in her first game in 32 days, tying for the team lead in doubles with her 10th of the year during the fourth inning ... Wedel's double was the 32nd of the senior's career, moving Wedel ahead of current assistant coach Katie O'Connell (2001-04) into ninth place in the Illini record books ... Hackett moved into second all-time at Illinois in career putouts during the contest, finishing the game with 10 to tally 1,098 for her career, eight more than Janna Sartini (2001-04) accumulated.