Softball splits Big Ten games against Purdue, Indiana

Vicky Brown pitches in the fourth inning against UIC at Eichelberger field on Wednesday, March 21, 2007. Beck Diefenbach

Vicky Brown pitches in the fourth inning against UIC at Eichelberger field on Wednesday, March 21, 2007. Beck Diefenbach

By Mike Theodore

It was an up-and-down weekend for the Illinois softball team as it split four games against Big Ten rivals Purdue and Indiana.

The Boilermakers toppled Illinois Friday night 8-1, but the Illini responded Saturday afternoon, blanking Purdue 8-0.

A first-inning RBI double in the first game by Illini outfielder Makenzie Smith gave Illinois the lead, but Purdue’s Brooke Baker pitched seven strong innings for the win, allowing just three hits after the first inning. Purdue was bolstered by Katie Mitchell’s four-hit game and first baseman Kelsey Hauper’s three RBIs.

But Baker was unable to bring her pitching success over to Saturday. The Purdue senior held the Illini scoreless for the first 3 2/3 innings, but the dormant Illinois offense finally got to Baker in the fourth. The Illini scored six runs in a two-out rally to propel the team to a 8-0 victory.

“That was really exciting,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “That’s good softball. Our players were playing in the moment. I think it’s just being real confident at the plate. Our offense is real contagious.”

Freshman Vicky Brown pitched six innings, allowing four hits to earn her third shutout of the year.

“Determination was a big factor for me,” Brown said. “(Catcher) Lana (Armstrong) did a great job of mixing it up. Coach said that a bad first game sets you up for a great comeback. I took that to heart and just tried to hit my spots.”

Illinois then traveled to Bloomington, Ind., for a Sunday afternoon doubleheader. In the first game Brown earned her second win on the weekend with another complete game. Illinois third-baseman Shanna Diller and center fielder Sarah Breyer each drove home three runs en route to the 11-1 run-rule victory.

In the second game, the Hoosiers’ relief pitcher, Jennifer Moore, stopped a late Illini threat to win 6-5. Illinois had three on base in the bottom of the seventh, but could not muster a game-winning hit.

“I have to give credit where credit’s due,” Sullivan said. “(Moore) came in and got the job done. We didn’t have too many players make adjustments to how she was throwing. She flat out beat us fair and square.”

The loss dropped the Illini to 23-14 overall and 2-2 in conference.

“It’s a great conference and now the challenge is not to settle for splits,” Sullivan said. “(We need) to go in there for the sweep – that’s how you really make a move to the top of the conference.”