Illinois wins NCAA opener
May 20, 2004
Waco, Texas - Illinois had to wait two hours to start its NCAA first round game with UT-San Antonio, but the wait was worth it as the second-seeded Illini posted a 3-0 victory over the seventh-seed Roadrunners in Waco, Texas. Illinois (42-19-1) advances to meet host Baylor in the second round at 12:30 p.m. on Friday.
The Illinois-UTSA game didn't start until 2:30 because the first game of the day went 16 innings before Baylor, behind an NCAA record 28 strikeouts from Cristen Vitek, defeated North Carolina, 1-0. Despite the long delay, Amanda Fortune and the Illini came out sharp, giving up just one hit and scoring all the runs they would need in the third inning.
UTSA came into the game as the nation's leader in home runs with 101 on the season and winners of 22 of its last 23 games. The Roadrunners, however, had just a fourth-inning single from catcher Jessica Els to show for their efforts Thursday against Illinois.
After UTSA starter Ursula Mares retired the side in order in the first two innings, Illinois came through with three runs in the third inning. Elene Planinsek walked, and Janna Sartini reached on a pop up that bounced off three Roadrunner defenders before falling in shallow right field. LeeAnn Butcher reached on an infield single loading the bases with one out. Erin Jones delivered a single to right field, scoring Erin Montgomery, who reached on a fielder's choice, and pinch runner Molly Lawhead.
"To win the first game of a tournament, it's important that you are able to gain the momentum early and not allow your opponent to get it back, which is what we were able to do today," said Illinois Head Coach Terri Sullivan. "UTSA is a great offensive team, so no lead is big enough. Amanda had great control of her pitches and Janna (Sartini) called a great game behind the plate."
Jones' heroic role is nothing new. Her three-run triple in the first inning in last year's Regional First Round game helped the Illini to a 5-3 victory over Georgia Tech.
"Erin Jones has always been a clutch hitter for us," said Sullivan. "She stays focused at the plate and understands how to come through in key situations."
Lindsey Hamma's sixth-inning double was the only other hit off of Mares. The Illini did have three errors in the game, including two in the sixth inning. The Illinois defense did manage to make up for the miscues in the inning, however. After the second Illini error, second baseman Katie O'Connell threw behind the runner to eliminate Stacey Gillespie and avoid a two on with no out situation. Jenna Hall made a nice stab on a shot of the bat of Jessica Rogers and doubled up the runner at first to end the inning.
Illinois and Baylor will meet for the second time this season with the Lady Bears having defeated the Illini, 2-1 in the Speedline Tournament on March 7. Jenna Hall hit a solo home run for Illinois in that game.
As far as the wait is concerned, Sullivan added, "That's all part of softball. We play in several tournaments throughout the year that help prepare us for the regional. You have to stay focused and come ready to play -- whenever you wind up starting."