May 16, 2003
Tuscaloosa, Ala. - Illinois lost two heartbreaking games at the NCAA Tournament on Friday. The Illini, making their first NCAA appearance, had defeated Georgia Tech on Thursday, but fell 4-2 to top-seeded Alabama, then bowed out of the tourney with a 5-4 loss to Massachusetts. Illinois finishes the most successful season in the program's young history at 39-17-1.
The evening started promising for the Illini. UMass starter Kelly Arnold suffered from some wildness. Jenna Busa came in to face two batters, before the Minutewomen put Arnold back in the game. Illinois had four walks and three base hits and were the beneficiary of two balks in that first inning, taking a 4-0 lead.
Jenna Hall drove home the first run of the inning with a single to center scoring Lindsey Hamma. Erin Montgomery walked and Erin Jones poked a single down the left field line for a base hit to load the bases. Janna Sartini singled scoring pinch runner Elene Planinsek. LeeAnn Butcher and Sarah Baumgartner were then each walked with the bases loaded to make it 4-0 Illini.
Illinois' Sherri Taylor looked splendid in the first three innings. Taylor retired the first 10 batters she faced, striking out one and allowing just one ball out of the infield. Then it was Massachusetts turn to take advantage of some walks. After Taylor issued two bases on balls in the fourth, UMass third baseman Katie Joe Kelley delivered a home run to give the Minutewomen some life, cutting the lead to 4-3.
Illinois, who left nine runners on base in the first six innings, had opportunities to add to its lead, but couldn't come up with the timely hits. The Illini left the base loaded in the sixth.
Massachusetts never couldn't put hits together either through six innings, with just two hits through six, while the Illini connected on eight base knocks. In the bottom of the seventh, however, UMass had two hits and took advantage of a costly Illinois error. With the runners at second and third and one out, Emily Rubuestelli delivered a sacrifice fly to score Aisha Franke from third and tie the score. The next hitter Hilary Puglia singled to left scoring Jamie Cahalan with the game winner.
"You have to take your hats off to UMass," said Illinois Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "It just goes to show you that you can't just sit on your runs early. You have to continue to win innings. The only inning we really won big was the first. It's a crazy game."
Reflecting on the year Sullivan said, "This is a tough loss. It never feels good when you're in this position, but we have had a lot of accomplishments this season. I heard Kobe Bryant say he's already looking toward next season. We will have seniors for the first time and we're looking forward to preparing for next season."