Illini lose to LSU 4-1, drop out of NCAA regionals
May 23, 2004
Waco, Texas - Illinois set many firsts in the 2004 season, including garnering its first No. 2 seed in an NCAA regional. However, the school's first berth in the Women's College World Series will have to wait for another year as top-seeded and No. 3 in the nation LSU used 13 hits to defeat Illinois 4-1 in the Sweet Sixteen, eliminating the Illini from NCAA competition.
But Illinois' performance did not go without recognition as three Illini made the All-Regional team. Amanda Fortune, LeeAnn Butcher and Erin Jones all were named to the 12-person squad. Fortune finished the regional with a 1.44 ERA, giving up seven earned runs and 27 hits in 34 innings of work. She notched a 4-2 record while striking out 20 and walking only five batters.
"She had a no-nonsense way about her," Illinois coach Terri Sullivan said of Fortune. "She wanted to take the team as far as she could and she had a superb weekend. In a crowd of a lot of talented pitchers, she really stood out."
Butcher hit .368 (7-for-19) for the tournament, finishing the season on a .372 tear (16-for-43) in her last 15 games. Butcher also scored three runs and had an RBI and a stolen base. Erin Jones hit .352 (6-for-17) for the weekend with a two-run single against Texas-San Antonio. Jones also scored a run, smacked a double in Illinois' win against Baylor, and had three sacrifices hitting in the No. 2 hole for Illinois.
Unlike the performances in their three wins in the Baylor regional, the Illini were unable to get comfortable at the plate and LSU was able to establish itself offensively. Both teams had two hits in the first inning and left two runners on base, but LSU broke through in the second on Julie Wiese's home run that gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
"We wanted to come out very aggressive offensively because we knew we weren't going to shut them out," Illinois coach Terri Sullivan said. "There was a chance to score early and we just didn't get it done. It's easier said than done to score when you get runners on base, but that was a key point in the game."
LSU ace Kristen Schmidt retired the Illini in order in the second, third, fourth, fifth and seventh innings, racking up eight of her nine strikeouts in the process. She also struck out the side in the second and seventh innings. Schmidt held the Illini to three hits - singles by LeeAnn Butcher, Lindsey Hamma and Sarah Baumgartner.
"We can't take away from her ability and what she does," Sullivan said of Schmidt. "She just really upset the batters' timing by hitting her spots. She was an outstanding player."
The Tigers tacked on runs in the third and fifth innings to increase their lead to 3-0. LSU was a lesson in clutch hitting, with two-out run-scoring hits in the third, fifth and sixth innings.
Illinois managed to push across a run in the sixth when Hamma hit a grounder to the shortstop with the bases loaded. Pinch runner Laura Zobrist was out at second, but Hamma beat the throw to first to deny the double play and allow Baumgartner's run to count. Baumgartner had reached on a leadoff base hit and moved to second when Butcher got on base on a fielding error by Wiese at third base. Jenna Hall then walked to bring Hamma to the plate.
However, the 3-1 margin was as close as Illinois could muster as LSU scored in the bottom of the sixth to increase its lead to the final margin of 4-1. The Illini fall from regional play after their second loss of the tournament, but the 4-2 run in the 2004 tournament brings the Illini's all-time NCAA record to a respectable 5-4.
Amanda Fortune ran out of gas after throwing 31 of Illinois' 35 NCAA innings entering Sunday's game. She allowed two runs on seven hits in three innings against the Tigers, a departure from her early-season success against LSU in which she allowed only one run on six hits in two appearances at the LSU Tiger Classic. Fortune finishes the season 31-11, setting multiple school records, including the mark for wins in a season.
Sherri Taylor came on in relief of Fortune in the fourth and gave up two runs, one earned, on six hits while striking out one and walking none.
Illinois finishes the 2004 campaign 45-21-1, the second-most wins in school history. Only the 2001 team that was 49-23 had a better mark.
"They've really done a tremendous job of building this program from the ground up," Sullivan said in reference to her first group of seniors. "How they represent Illinois and the class they have as human beings is what's taken us so far, not just their ability on the field. We want to continue the tradition of coming together as a team and I know teams to follow them are going to do even bigger and better things because of where the bar was set."