Illinois softball defeats No. 18 Southern Illinois in extra innings

As the weekend approached, the Fighting Illini women’s softball team had high hopes of attaining bragging rights as the better of Illinois teams when facing the Southern Illinois Salukis.

“Being the state school we know everyone’s coming out gunning for us, which means more to us on the field,” right fielder Hope Howell said.

Stretching the game to eight innings, the Illini defeated the Salukis 6-5 with the help of freshman first baseman Meredith Hackett’s solo home run in the eighth inning, her fourth of the season. Hackett finished the day 4-for-4.

“Balance and staying on the ball helps me stay confident at the plate,” Hackett said.

Hackett’s blast also ended Salukis pitcher Katie McNamara’s streak of 33 innings without giving up an earned run.

For Illinois, pitcher Monica Perry threw a hard eight innings, giving up five runs on five hits while fanning eight.

On offense, the Illini were scoreless for the first four innings. The Salukis forged ahead in the third with a leadoff single and a two-out double, bringing in one run.

They crossed the plate twice more on designated player Chelsea Held’s two-run homer, making the score 3-0 in the fourth.

In the top of the fifth, the Illini strung together several hits to tie the game at three, but the Illini fell behind again as SIU grabbed the lead in the bottom of the fifth.

In each of the next two innings, Illinois managed to plate a run. Hackett doubled to lead off the sixth inning and pinch runner Katie Lutes later scored on Linnea Detrick’s groundout.

Kicking off the seventh, second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz singled and made it to second on an error. After advancing to third, she was then brought in by Howell’s sacrifice fly, tying the game at five.

The bases were loaded for the Salukis in the bottom half of the inning, but the Orange and Blue got out of the jam when Perry tossed a strike on a full count to end the inning.

“Perry did an excellent job with the strike zone,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “She knew what she had to do to help out our defense and was able to come up with big strikeouts at the right time.”

Illinois took the lead 6-5 in the eighth when Hackett smashed the first pitch of the inning over the left field wall, sealing the win.

“It was the best feeling ever crossing the plate in the eighth inning,” Hackett said. “Being a freshman, I never expected to experience anything like that, but the girls and I definitely are proud to have come out on top.”