Sophomore Pepper Gay dropped her season ERA to 2.67 with nine shutout innings against the Gophers.
May 13, 2011
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Entering the final series of the 2011 regular season, the Fighting Illini and the Minnesota Gophers softball teams opened their two-game series with an extra-innings pitcher's duel on the Big Ten Network. Illinois starter Pepper Gay held Minnesota to three hits while walking eight and striking out nine in the complete-game effort. Gophers starting pitcher Sara Moulton also went the distance, answering Gay over the first eight frames before the Illini offense created the difference at the plate. Meredith Hackett broke the scoreless tie in the ninth inning with an RBI-double down the left field line - the eventual game-winning run. Jessica Davis followed with an RBI-single to double the lead and reach the final score, 2-0.
"We are very pleased with the win as it was a tight game and a pitcher's duel," Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said. "Earlier in the season we might have gotten caught up in not having scored a run yet, but the offense came through with some clutch hits when we needed them. We played the game that was there, let the game unfold and then made things happen."
With one out in the top of the ninth, Danielle Zymkowitz walked and advanced to second on a Hollie Pinchback single to left field. Hackett followed with a two-base hit down the left field line, easily scoring the speedy Zymkowitz from second. Davis immediately followed with a single to center field to score Pinchback from third and stake Illinois to a two-run lead.
"The offense played in the moment," Sullivan said. "You could feel sorry for yourself as a hitter and think about your previous at bats, but they focused on their next ones and made it happen. We had people step up at the right time to make this a great team win."
Gay headed to the circle in the bottom of the ninth to close out the game, loading the bases before working out of the jam without allowing a run to earn her first collegiate complete game, extra-innings shutout. Natalie Neal walked to lead off the frame before Allie Siu earned a bunt single to put runners on first and second. Gay struck out Aubrey Davis looking to record the first out before Dannie Skrove fouled out to Hackett. After Malisa Barnes singled, Bree Blanchette flied out to right field to end the contest. Skrove singled to left field in the third frame to provide the only other hit of the night for Minnesota (30-24 overall, 8-11 Big Ten).
"Pepper [Gay] had great focus and was the leader our team needed today," Sullivan said. "Minnesota's hitters and base runners didn't bother her. Sometimes a pitcher might worry about their offense in a game like this, but our staff knows now that they can just worry about their job and the hitters will take care of getting runs for them.
The Illini (27-21, 12-7) tallied individual hits in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to total three base runners before the ninth frame. Audrey Gallien singled through the left side in the sixth as the leadoff batter and Davis singled up the middle with two outs in the seventh. Danielle Vaji led off the eighth with a single to center field; however, the Illini threat was neutralized with a fly out to right field followed by a double play.
Up Next: Illinois concludes the regular season against Minnesota at 1:00 p.m. CT on Saturday, May 14 at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. Live stats as well as a live blog conducted by Illinois Sports Information Graduate Assistant Cody Lahl will be available on fightingillini.com at game time.