Illini softball takes doubleheader from Badgers

Monica Perry entered Saturday’s doubleheader against Wisconsin with one goal in mind: rebounding after a pair of disappointing midweek losses to Iowa.

The freshman pitcher bounced back in a big way, putting her name in the Illinois record books in the process. In the first game of the day, an 8-0 Illinois win, Perry no-hit the Badgers, making her the first Illini pitcher to throw a no-hitter against a Big Ten opponent. In game two, Perry threw another complete game to lead the Illini to a 3-2 victory.

“Really after the loss to Iowa, I just wanted to come out and have a strong game and not let up, so I was just hitting my spots and just trying to get batters out and not try to overpower anybody,” Perry said.

Illinois’ offense also rebounded in game one, piling on eight runs in the first four innings, including a five-run fourth, to secure an 8-0 run-rule victory in the minimum five innings. Leading the way for the offense was sophomore second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz, who was 3-for-3 with two runs and an RBI.

Perry’s teammates credited her performance on the mound with sparking their bats.

“We hadn’t won a doubleheader on the road in Big Ten play yet, and we just really wanted to come out strong after Iowa and work together and prove that we’re more than what we showed on Wednesday,” junior right fielder Hope Howell said. “(Perry) had a no-hitter, that was awesome for our defense, and it just gave us more momentum for the plate.”

Perry continued her stellar performance in game two, allowing just two runs, one earned, in seven innings of work. The McDonough, Ga., native finished the day with 10 strikeouts and one walk in 12 innings of work.

It was more than Perry’s pitching that got it done for the Fighting Illini (20-10, 5-2 Big Ten), though.

“We wanted to win two on the road and got that done through winning in some different ways,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “Obviously Monica pitched really well for us, had a no-hitter in the first game, and I actually think even threw better in the second game. And we needed her to hit her spots (Saturday), and she did that, and I think she really had trust in her defense.

“Kelley Wedel at third base was really solid and fielded every ball clean, and I think that was key as well for Monica,” Sullivan added.

Howell lead the way for the offense in game two, going 2-for-2 at the plate with an RBI and scoring the winning run in the sixth, to give the Illini a sweep of the Badgers (12-24, 1-5).

Now seven games in to their conference schedule, the Orange and Blue are putting together the pieces of what it takes to have success in the Big Ten.

“I think the first-year players, or everybody, learns when you come in that it really does take everybody,” Howell said. “Everybody has to step up, and you can’t take one at-bat or one pitch, on defense one play, for granted because it could come back to bite you later or it could make or break your game.”