May 6, 2006
Urbana, Ill. - Tailgaters arrived early in the morning and continued to stream in as the afternoon wore on for the third edition of the World's Largest Softball Tailgate presented by Busey Bank. A sun drenched day made the weather as ideal as could be. A record number of those fans - 1,283 ventured into Eichelberger Field to see Illinois battle 12th-ranked Northwestern. The Wildcats stole a little of the thunder,however, with a 3-0 victory.
The 1,283 fans shattered last year's turnstile count of 906, while a record number of tailgaters blanketed the lots outside the field. The No Secret Band played classic rock favorites and hundreds of kids, including many Girl Scouts, enjoyed the inflatable games. Alice and Rex Martin, benefactors to whom the softball stadium will be named once the final phase is completed, were on hand to share in the festivities and were honored before the game.
"I know our players have a lot of pride in the support they get all the time," said Illinois Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "This atmosphere is special. I don't know that there would be a better softball environment to play in. There's so much pride in being an Illini fan.
Northwestern's Eileen Canney was the story of the game, however. The junior All-Big Ten candidate tossed a four-hit shutout while striking out 12 in helping the Wildcats clinch their first Big Ten title since 1987 and the become the host site for next weekend's conference tournament.
Canney struck out six in a row at one point and eight in the first four innings. Northwestern got all the support Canney would need in the top of the first. Run-scoring singles from Garland Cooper and Jamie Dotson made it 2-0 Northwestern. Darcy Sengewald drove in the third run of the game in fourth and left it up to Canney to hold Illinois in check.
It looked as if the Illini (24-29, 8-10) were going to strike back in the bottom of the first, but a lead-off single from senior Rachelle Coriddi did not materialize in more offense in the inning. Jenna Hall (2-for-3) had two of Illinois' four hits in the game.
Illinois' best chance to score came in the fourth. Hall delivered a one-out single up the middle and pinch runner Denise Prather aggressively went from first to third on a single to center by Shanna Diller, who advanced to second on the throw. That put runners at second and third, but both were stranded.
Northwestern (39-11, 15-3) out-hit Illinois 8-4. The two teams wrap up the regular season Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. Senior Day Festivities precede the first pitch.