Illini Claim Series with 6-1 Victory at Penn State
May 3, 2014
University Park, Pa. - Illinois came out firing on all cylinders, opening the game with a leadoff home run, while putting forth perfect defense and a one-run performance by Shelese Arnold to cruise past Penn State, 6-1, and capture the series victory. With the win, Illinois unofficially clinches the ninth seed for next week's Big Ten Tournament, improving to 22-25 (6-16 Big Ten), with expected first round opponent #8 Iowa. Penn State continues its recent skid, dropping to 14-33 (5-17 Big Ten).
For the fifth time this season, Allie Bauch led off the game with a solo home run, quickly jumpstarting the Illini offense, and finishing the day 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBI. Kylie Johnson was 2-for-4 right behind her with a run and a two-out, two-run triple, and Jess Perkins hit an RBI double and scored in the fourth. Remeny Perez was 1-for-1 with a walk and a key sacrifice bunt, and Jenna Mychko led off the fourth with a single.
Arnold (6-10) tossed the complete game for the Illini, limiting Penn State to one run on six hits and four walks with three strikeouts. Christy Von Pusch (2-2) got the starting nod for the Nittany Lions, allowing four runs, three earned, on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts over the first three-and-a-third innings. Macy Jones hurled the final three and two-thirds, allowing two unearned runs on three hits and a walk.
"I was feeling really good," said Arnold. "It was exciting to get the win yesterday, a shutout, so we came out feeling good and were just ready to dominate and win the series. Jenna did a great job behind the plate, and I trusted her; I was just trusting everyone. That's what Coach DiBiase kept telling me, just trust the defense. It felt really good just to play all together."
Lexi Knief was a bright spot for the PSU offense, going 2-for-4 with a double and the Nittany Lions' lone RBI. Liz Presto walked, singled and scored, and Macy Jones doubled in the sixth but was stranded in scoring position.
The Illini defense was flawless for the 18th time this season and turned a pair of double plays, including a perfect throw to the plate by center fielder Brittany Sanchez to end the first inning, which further extends their program record to 32 double plays on the season. Illinois is just two DPs shy of entering the NCAA record books, needing 34 to jump into a tie for 18th all-time in Division I history.
"Shey going the distance for us is huge for our whole pitching staff," said Assistant Coach Katie O'Connell. "Allie started off the game (with a home run), and I thought Kylie did a great job of contributing all the way around. I thought it was a total, complete game. We executed a lot of stuff. Everyone put the team first, as they usually do, so we were able to get that runner to second (in the fourth), and Perkins stepped up and got it done."
After hitting a home run in the bottom of the seventh on Friday night, Bauch opened the game with a solo home run, this time to straightaway center. Johnson followed with a grounder to short, but Furuya's throw was off line, allowing Johnson to land safely on second. She stole third, and following a walk to Rivera, Sanchez drove her in on a grounder to second to give the Illini a quick 2-0 lead.
Lexi Knief led off the bottom of the first with a double to the gap in left center, and Shelby Miller made it first and third with a single to left. However, Arnold got Hatfield to ground out to first, and Sanchez then turned an inning-ending double play, making the catch on a lineout then firing home to catch Knief tagging up.
The Illini doubled their lead in the top of the fourth, kicked off by a single to the gap in left center by Mychko. Alyssa Gunther came in to pinch run, and Perez bunted her over to second. Perkins then ripped an RBI double to left center to make it 3-0 Illini, and Bauch drove her in with a bloop single to shallow right.
The Nittany Lions used a two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth to get on the board for the first time in the series. Presto got it started with a two-out single to right, Walker walked, and Knief came through with an RBI single up the middle to make it 4-1.
Illinois took advantage of a Penn State miscue in the top of the sixth to score a pair of unearned runs. Perez led off with a walk, then Bauch hit one that looked to go up the middle, but Miller made a diving stop. However, Furuya muffed the throw on her flip to second, allowing Vecvanags to make it all the way to third. Johnson then made them pay with a two-out, two-run triple to put Illinois ahead 6-1.
Arnold muted a strong scoring chance for the Nittany Lions in the bottom of the sixth, as PSU had a pair in scoring position after a one-out double by Jones. However, Arnold painted the corners for back-to-back strikeouts to keep PSU from mounting a late comeback.
"I just trusted Jenna and my teammates around me saying, `I've got your back, I've got your back,'" said Arnold. "That's what really helped. I trusted my pitches, knowing my teammates had my back."
Walker drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the seventh, but a ground out to first sealed up the complete-game victory for Arnold, as Illinois took the contest by a final score of 6-1.
"It was an awesome team win across the board," said O'Connell. "I'm proud of Shey and Mychko for what they did, and let's go get one tomorrow."
Next Up: The Illini close out the regular season on Sunday, May 4, with the series finale against Penn State. The game will be streamed live on the Big Ten Digital Network with first pitch set for 10:30 a.m. ET.