Illini Cap Regular Season With Sweep of Minnesota
May 3, 2009
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - The Illini softball team capped off its regular season with a 2-1 extra-inning victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. With the sweep, Illinois finishes the regular season 29-15 and 12-7 in the Big Ten, the best conference finish since 2004. The Orange and Blue now await the announcement of the NCAA Division I Softball Championship field, which will air live on ESPNU at 9 p.m. (CT) on Sunday, May 10.
"Our success this season has stemmed from all the players working hard and believing in our game plan," Illini head coach Terri Sullivan said. "We learned through both losses and victories and grew a lot as a team. Our leadership got stronger from our returning players and our younger players have done an amazing job of learning what it takes to win games. When their confidence level is high and they believe in themselves, they're tough to take down.
"I don't know that we've never had a team that's had contributions from so many different people and put it all together like this at the end of the season."
Illinois threatened in the third, getting two runner on with just one out, but a couple of solid defensive plays from the Gophers stifled the opportunity. The Illini returned the favor in the bottom half of the inning after a two-out double, as second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz dove to her right and caught a sharp liner to save a run.
"There was no better time to pull out great team defensive performance than in a great pitcher's duel on the road," Sullivan said. "Danielle's play turned out to be key in the later innings and gave us a boost on defense."
Zymkowitz took care of things on the offensive side as well, breaking up the scoreless game in the top of the fifth and giving the Illini a 1-0 advantage. First baseman Meredith Hackett ripped a leadoff double to right-center, then Zymkowitz smacked a two-out double through the left side for the go-ahead run. Zymkowitz finished the day 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run.
The Gophers tied the game on a base-hit and sacrifice fly in the bottom half of the inning.
The Orange and Blue defense stepped up again in the bottom of the seventh, working out of a bases-loaded jam with one out. Shortstop Ashley Conrad fielded a grounder and threw home for the force, picking up the second out of the inning. With the bases still loaded, centerfielder Jamie Adishian snatched a sinking liner out of the air to end the Gophers' threat and send the game into extras.
"We had to come up with routine plays under great pressure, and our defensive stepped up to the challenge," Sullivan said. "Jamie did outstanding job whole weekend and read the ball off the bat really well. Ashley played one of her best defensive games, especially getting that ball in a pressure situation."
Zymkowitz wasted little time putting the Illini back on top in the eighth, leading off the inning with a hard base-knock to shortstop. With one out, leftfielder Hollie Pinchback slapped a grounder to second, but Gopher second baseman Sammie Howard couldn't make the play and Zymkowitz sped home to make it 2-1. Illini pitcher Monica Perry (24-13) breezed through the Gophers in the bottom of the eighth, retiring three in a row to seal the 2-1 win.
Perry went the distance again, allowing one earned run on five hits. With her 24th win of the season, she ties Amanda Fortune for the third-most victories in a single season.
"Perry pitched even better than yesterday, which is hard to do against a team that's already seen you," Sullivan said. "She had fun throwing under pressure and really clamped down in the final inning."
Illinois final standing in the Big Ten is yet to be determined, as the Illini have a bye week this weekend. Depending on the results from other conference contests, Illinois can finish anywhere from third to fifth in the league.