Illini Sweep Penn State with Senior Day Walk-Off Win, 3-2
May 6, 2012
URBANA, Ill. - Illinois softball concluded a three-game sweep of Penn State with a 3-2 walk-off victory at Eichelberger Field on Sunday morning. Freshman second baseman Jami Schkade scored the winning run from second in the seventh, with Penn State's left fielder, Shannon Hutchinson, misplayed a ground ball through the left side of the infield by sophomore left fielder Alex Booker. Following the win, Kelley Wedel accepted a marriage proposal from the senior's boyfriend, Matt Cervantes, at third base with the crowd at Eichelberger Field looking on.
"Winning game three and getting a sweep are tough to do in the Big Ten, but we felt we needed to do that today," Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said. "You win in different ways. We were not sharp defensively at times this weekend and we let them score and have other opportunities because of our mistakes, but we didn't let those pile up. We have shown we are capable of responding with key pitches, strikeouts from Pepper [Gay] or hits."
To earn the walk-off win, Schkade opened the seventh with a slow-rolling single to third on a drag-bunt attempt. Nittany Lion third baseman Ashley Todd was able to field the ball cleanly; however, the throw to first was late and wide of the bag, allowing Schkade to take second as the ball rolled to the right field fence.
Two batters later, Booker drove a base hit through the left side of the infield. Schkade was held at third when Hutchinson raced to the play as the Albany, Texas, native reached the base. When Hutchinson arrived at the ball however, the junior bobbled it and was unable to field crisply with her glove hand, allowing Schkade to rush home as the winning run.
"I'm excited to earn the sweep," Booker said. "I was just trying to do what I could for my team. Stepping up in the seventh inning is what we are all looking and trying to do. You should want to be in that spot. We were ready and I just wanted to get on base."
First-inning offense paced the Illini (27-23 overall, 10-11 Big Ten) for the third consecutive game, with the Orange and Blue scoring twice in the opening frame on Sunday. Booker started the contest with a walk before redshirt-junior Jessica Davis sent the shortstop's first collegiate triple to the right-center field wall to put the Orange and Blue in front, 1-0. With Davis on third and no one out, senior first baseman Meredith Hackett singled to shallow left field, allowing Davis to run home to double the Illinois lead.
Penn State (17-30, 8-12) tallied its first run of the contest in the top of the third. With Cassidy Bell on third and Kailyn Johnson on first, Illinois junior catcher Stephanie Cuevas attempted to throw down to third base after Johnson took off for second and Bell began moving toward home. However, freshman third baseman Jess Perkins was not prepared to receive the throw, allowing Bell to reach home safely to pull the Nittany Lions within 2-1.
Penn State added the tying run in the sixth. With Walker on second, Alyssa Sovereign sent a ground ball through the left side of the infield, with Walker rounding third and reaching home safely to tie the game at 2-2.
Illinois junior Pepper Gay started the contest and earned the right-hander's 22nd win of the season in the process, going the distance while holding Penn State to two runs - one earned - on three hits and two walks, striking out five.
"She just keeps improving," said Sullivan of Gay's performances in recent weeks. "For any young player that speaks to what you need to do at this level to get better as a pitcher. You are well scouted and opponents have faced you before at this point, as you are now in the third game of the weekend. She just kept going at them with her repertoire of pitches."
Lisa Akamine was served the loss for Penn State, dropping to 11-18 this year with 6 1/3 innings of work, giving up three runs - two earned - on five hits and four walks while striking out five.
Illinois concludes the regular season with a three-game series at Northwestern (24-27, 11-10). The Orange and Blue will complete a Friday, May 11 doubleheader, beginning at 2 p.m. CT before concluding the slate with a single contest on Saturday, May 12 at 1 p.m. CT.
Senior Day Notes: Wedel's boyfriend, Matt Cervantes, proposed to the senior at third base following the game, with Wedel accepting ... Illinois scored 12 of its 13 runs on the series in the first two frames of each game, including 10 first inning runs combined in all three contests ... Illinois earned its third walk-off win of the season against Penn State on Sunday ... The triple by Davis was the first of the redshirt-junior's collegiate career.
Cervantes on the marriage proposal: "It was her Senior Day and softball has been such a huge part of her life since childhood. When I started planning this I didn't know exactly how I was going to do it, but I knew I would do it during Senior Day, walking out with her to third base where she has played so many games for the Illini [to propose]."
Wedel on the marriage proposal: "It came out of nowhere. We had talked about it as a possibility, but not specific to any time frame. When Matt started walking out towards me I just started shaking. It was very exciting."
Sullivan on the marriage proposal: "Kelly and Matt are terrific people. Matt has had this planned as far as the engagement for some time. I don't know how our team kept it a secret because they are a talkative bunch but it was an exciting day and it was especially memorable with her [Kelly's] family able to be here from California. This was fantastic, I am very excited for them and they are going to have a wonderful life together."