Ashley Conrad hit her ninth home run against Purdue on Wednesday.
May 12, 2010
Urbana, Ill. - Illinois had all elements of its game going on Wednesday night as the 18th-ranked Illini completed a sweep over visiting Purdue, winning 5-0 and 8-0 in five innings. Sophomore Monica Perry (22-5) and freshman Pepper Gay (15-1) each tossed complete game shutouts. The offense tallied four and six-run innings and the defense threw runners out both trying to score and steal. The wins move Illinois into a tie for second in the Big Ten at 14-2 and improve its overall record to 41-6. Purdue drops to 27-27 overall and 8-10 in the conference.
"Shutouts are tough to get this time of the year," said head coach Terri Sullivan. "The sweeps come against a Purdue team that puts the ball in play so you really need to bring your defense and your pitching. Our pitchers really located the pitches well and they got some support from their defense."
Perry needed just 87 pitches in seven innings in the opener. She retired the first 10 batters she faced and scattered four hits. Gay allowed just one walk and four hits while striking out five in five innings of work in helping complete the sweep
In game one, Purdue threatened with two straight doubles to start the seventh inning, but Illinois threw out a runner trying to score as left fielder Hollie Pinchback hit the cut off of Danielle Vaji who fired a strike to Audrey Gallien, who blocked the plate and applied the tag.
First baseman Meredith Hackett had another big night. A week after hitting two home runs, including a walk-off, in a doubleheader sweep of Iowa, Hackett delivered again, going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI in the opener and 2-for-2 with her 15th home run of the season, a three-run shot in the second game. The Illini first baseman improves her average to .419 with an .831 slugging percentage and 55 RBI for the season.
"For Meredith, it's more about her confidence level," Sullivan said. "She has a great swing and is very disciplined at the plate, but I have to believe that that ball looks like the size of watermelon for her right now."
In the first game, Illinois scored four unearned runs in the fourth inning to break open a tight game. Back-to-back two run singles by All-American Danielle Zymkowitz and Hope Howell provided the big blows.
In game two, the Illini provided all the offense they would need in the second inning with a pair of three-run home runs, first by Ashley Conrad, her ninth, then from Hackett.
In both instances, freshman Jackie Guy, who was making her first career starts at designated player, had hits in the rally. In the seventh, utility player Erin Braderich kept the inning alive with a single before Illinois scored twice on bases loaded walks.
"This time of the year it's those role players that really make a huge difference," Sullivan said. "We had some great role players do things for us. People have to get on base to have home runs that drive a few in."
Purdue threatened in the first inning, putting two runners on base, but Gallien threw out a runner trying to steal to thwart the scoring threat.
"It's about being ready," Sullivan said of the defensive efforts of her club. "An outfielder has a chance to throw someone out maybe once in several games and sometimes not at all. Our players really demonstrated they are playing in the moment."
Illinois has won 14 of its last 15 games with just one series remaining - against Minnesota Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (1 p.m.) -- before the NCAA selection announcement on Sunday.
"You want to be playing your best this time of the year," Sullivan said. "That was our goal when our team met in August. We are doing that which is a testament to the work ethic of our players."