Illini ouduel Iowa, win 2-0
May 8, 2004
Urbana, Ill. - The weather for Dog Day at Eichelberger Field felt like the dog days of summer, but the Illinois softball team found the conditions to its liking. Senior pitcher Amanda Fortune went the distance, scattering five Iowa hits, striking out six and walking one while lifting Illinois to a 2-0 victory.
"She was ready to roll from a week ago," said Illinois coach Terri Sullivan, referring to Fortune's dominance on the Illini's road trip through Wisconsin and Minnesota. "But this also reflects the efforts of the catcher and the preparation the entire team puts in so they can be ready when the time comes."
In what could be described as a textbook softball game, that time didn't come early in the game. Iowa got runners to second and third with one out in the first inning, but came away empty-handed. Two innings later, the Hawkeyes loaded the bases with only one out, but fell victim to the wicked movement on Fortune's pitches and failed to score once again.
Illinois threatened first in the third inning when Janna Sartini reached on a fielder's choice. Sarah Baumgartner pinch ran for her and stole second. Baumgartner moved to third on LeeAnn Butcher's infield single, and Butcher advanced to second when no one was covering the bag. But two strikeouts later, the game was still scoreless.
Fortune got stronger as the game went on, even as the temperature crept toward 90 degrees. She retired 14 of the last 15 batters - including the last two outs in the third inning - giving up only a single in the fifth inning. Fortune piled up four of her strikeouts in that span, including three batters looking at third strikes.
With her performance, all Fortune needed was a little offensive support, and that came in the sixth inning. With one out, Iowa's Lisa Birocci threw two straight balls to Illini slugger Jenna Hall, then intentionally walked her. Laura Zobrist pinch ran for Hall then moved to third on Lindsey Hamma's single to left field and an error by the left fielder that gave Illinois runners at second and third with only one out. Erin Montgomery drew a walk after working the count full, bringing Katie O'Connell to the plate. O'Connell hardly had time to settle into the batter's box before smacking the first pitch into left-center field for a two-RBI single that gave Illinois it's winning margin of 2-0.
"Sometimes that's the best pitch to hit," Sullivan said. "She was ready to step up when she came today.
When asked if she ever thought about giving O'Connell a take sign, Sullivan said, "When we've got a pressure situation, we try to not start making decisions for our players. That's one of the worst things we can do is over-coach, and we try to leave it in their hands and let them make plays."
O'Connell did just that, giving Illinois (38-18-1) its seventh win in its last at-bat this season. The victory gives the Illini a 32-3-1 record when scoring two or more runs, and a 31-2 mark when they score first in a game.
Illinois and Iowa square off again at noon Sunday, when the Illini will recognize its 11 seniors that built the team from the ground up. With a win, Illinois will grab the second seed in next weekend's Big Ten tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich.