May 22, 2010

*Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

COLUMBIA, MO. - The Illini were ready for their second game of the day, and left fielder Hope Howell set the tone with a triple to left center right off the bat in the first inning. She kept it up with a three-run homer in the fourth inning to lead the Illini to their second victory over of the weekend. Howell was 2-for-4 with a run and 3 RBI. The Illini faced the Blue Demons in the first game of the regional, winning 4-2, and secured the 9-1 win in game five.

"It was nice to see our offense string together some hits and have an inning like we've had throughout the year where we have some excitement and explode with runs," head coach Terri Sullivan said. "We are going to be ready to do that tomorrow. We don't want to focus too much on the opponent but more on our own business. I like where we're at."

In addition to coming out strong at the plate, Illinois pitchers Monica Perry and Pepper Gay combined to improve the team's record to 45-7 overall. Perry pitched four innings and allowed the Blue Demons only three hits, improving her record to 25-6 on the season. Gay came in to strike out four batters and she allowed only one hit

"Monica came in strong and did what she needed to do to keep us in the ball game, and we've seen her quite a few times," Sullivan said. "Pepper is never very nervous when she's got runners on base and that is a good quality to have. Those two worked well together and got it done."

Third baseman Kelley Wedel reached base after being hit by a pitch in the third, and catcher Audrey Gallien hit a bunt single. An error by DePaul advanced Wedel to third, and a wild pitch brought Wedel home, giving the Illini the 1-0 lead. Pinch runner Nikki Simpson scored the Illini's second run off of a single by shortstop Danielle Vaji. DePaul scored one run in the bottom of the second making it a 2-1 score.

Wedel came out again in the fourth with a rocket to left center advancing her to second base. Designated player Jackie Guy was hit by a pitch and center fielder Ashley Conrad followed with a single to load the bases for the Illini. Another single from Vaji brought Wedel in for the 3-1 score. Then a single from second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz brought in pinch runner Katie Lutes, and a DePaul error advanced Conrad to home. Hope Howell secured the Illinois lead with a three-run homer over the right field fence making it 8-1 for the Illini. That wasn't the end of the hitting; with only one out first baseman Meredith Hackett stepped up with a single, and was advanced by a base hit from Wedel. Wedel went 2-for-4 at the plate with 2 runs in game five, and DePaul faced 11 Illini batters in the fourth inning alone.

Zymowitz hit her first home run of the season in the top of the seventh upping the score to 9-1 for the Illini. The second baseman holds a .375 career batting average, which ranks highest in Illinois' history. Gay struck out the side to finish off the game.

The Illini head out again tomorrow at 1 p.m. to face Missouri in game six of the NCAA Regional Tournament at University Field in Columbia, Mo.