INDIANA FORCES #24 ILLINOIS TO FIGHT FOR
EVERYTHING IT EARNS DURING DOUBLEHEADER SWEEP BY ILLINI, 3-1 AND 4-2
Bloomington, Ind. - Although it failed to capture any games during this weekend's four Big Ten contests at the IU Softball Field against Northwestern and #24 Illinois, Indiana (14-22 overall, 0-10 Big Ten), under the direction of first-year head coach Sara Hayes, continues to learn that it can stand toe-to-toe with some of the finest teams in the country.
No longer does one bad inning lead to another. Gone are the days when a poor at-bat carried into the field during the next half-inning. Indiana's pitchers are now challenging good hitters...and winning. Such positive strides were again the case again today as the nationally-ranked Fighting Illini (29-8 overall, 7-3 Big Ten) captured a doubleheader, 3-1 and 4-2, yet left impressed with the fight exhibited by the Hoosiers.
"Our staff is very impressed with our players' aggressiveness, their hustle, and their competitiveness," said Hayes. "To Illinois' credit -- and they are an excellent softball team -- they made the plays they had to make to win."
Despite the two losses, it was the little things that were again impressive for the Hoosiers. The Illini entered today's doubleheader with an impressive 55 stolen bases in 37 games, yet could only manage one in two games this afternoon. Indiana hurlers walked only two batters in 13 innings pitched. The Hoosiers scored their lone run in the first game on a well-executed suicide squeeze. It's this type of play that is keeping the Hoosiers, and their fans, energized despite the 0-10 conference mark.
In the opener, junior pitcher Heather Stillians (7-11) was masterful at times, allowing seven hits and two earned runs, in seven innings pitched. She did not walk a batter and struck out three. After centerfielder Rachelle Coriddi reached on an error to lead off the top of the first inning, Stillians did not allow an Illini batter to reach base until rightfielder Erin Montgomery singled to lead off the top of the fifth. Even more impressive, no Illini hitter was able to hit a ball out of the infield until the Illini recorded four hits in the top of the fifth, scoring one run to take a 2-0 lead. After reaching on the error in the first, Coriddi stole second and scored on consecutive groundouts.
"I may have had my worst warmup ever prior to the first game," said Stillians. "I couldn't get anything to move and I wasn't hitting my spots. I told myself there was no way that I was going to carry that into the game and when I started pitching, I was very comfortable and confident."
Illinois outhit Indiana, 7-6, in the opener and played flawless defensively, after entering Sunday's play with a very impressive .974 fielding percentage. Illini pitcher Amanda Fortune was dominant throughout as she allowed only six hits and one earned run, while walking none and striking out four, in seven innings pitched to earn her 18th victory of the season. After Sherri Taylor opened the second game in the circle for the Illini and allowed three hits and two runs (one earned) in 3 2/3 innings pitched, while walking none and striking out three, it was again Fortune (19-5) who earned the win as she pitched the final 3 1/3 and allowed five hits. She struck out three and walked none. Illinois notched 10 hits to IU's 8, yet left 11 runners on base.
Although the Hoosiers recorded eight hits in the nightcap, no IU hitter notched more than one hit, although Ashley Griffiths and senior Katie Joy recorded doubles. Stillians tallied two hits in the opener, along with an RBI.
In the second game, senior catcher Stormy Hanson deposited a two-out, 0-1, delivery from Taylor over the left field fence with two outs in the top of the first for her ninth home run of the season to give the Hoosiers a 1-0 advantage. Sophomore Katie Witham (4-10) took advantage for two innings before the Illini scored four times in the bottom of the third inning. Those runs should have never happened.
After first baseman Jenna Hall led off the top of the third with a single to center, Elene Planisek pinch ran for Hall. After a foul out, catcher Janna Sartini hit what looked to be a sure-fire double play to the normally sure-handed Griffiths at second base. In an attempt to tag out the lead runner, Griffiths dropped the ball, allowing both runners to reach base. After Laura Zobrist pinch ran for Sartini, leftfielder Sarah Baumgartner singled home Planinsek with the game-tying run, 1-1, before second baseman Katie O'Connell hit a three-run home run to left field, her fourth of the season, to provide the Illini with a 4-1 lead, one they would never relinquish.
Indiana narrowed the lead to 4-2 with a lone run in the top of the fourth on an unearned run scored by Heather Suca, who scored on an error by shortstop Lindsey Hamma. It could have been a huge inning for the Hoosiers. After Suca led off the inning reaching on an error, Hanson reached after being hit by a pitch. Leftfielder Abby Stark followed with a single, but with Suca appropriately being held at third, Hanson overran the bag at second and was thrown out. Now with runners on first and third and one out, Stark was thrown out attempting to steal and the Illini worked their way out of the inning allowing only one run.
In the top of the seventh, Griffiths doubled to center to lead off the inning and third baseman Kristine Dugan singled. After a fielder's choice left runners at first and second, Fortune struck out both Suca and Hanson in succession to end the game.
Stillians pitched 1 1/3 innings in the second game and allowed only one hit, while striking out one. She gave way to sophomore Megan Roark who pitched the final 2/3 innings and allowed one hit. She also struck out a batter.
In the opener, after retiring 12 consecutive hitters, Stillians allowed a leadoff single to center by Erin Montgomery in the top of the fifth. After advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt by Sara Baumgarten, catcher Janna Sartini singled to advance Montgomery to third. After Elene Planinsek pinch ran for Sartini, Katie O'Connell singled to score Montgomery from third. Planinsek was then thrown out attempting to steal and the Hoosiers worked their way out of the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, freshman Lauren Hines led off the inning with a triple to right and scored on a suicide squeeze by Stillians. After Katie Witham pinch ran for Stillians, Abby Page executed a beautiful bunt to the right of Fortune and third baseman Erin Jones' throw to second was late. Page and Witham advanced to second and third, respectively, on a sacrifice bunt by Joy. With one out, Ashley Griffiths flew out to shallow right field but Witham was cut down at the plate attempting to score from third, with what would have been the game-tying run.
The Illini added a lone run in the top of the seventh on two hits and one IU error.
Indiana returns to action on Wednesday when it hosts SEC rival Kentucky for a doubleheader at the IU Softball Field that begins at 3:00 p.m. EST/4:00 p.m. EDT.