Illinois softball wins on Evans’ walk-off

By James Boyd, Staff writer

Senior Nicole Evans continues to show that all of the accolades she has earned this season are not a fluke.

With the game on the line against Marshall, Illinois softball’s all-time RBI leader brought in the game’s winning run. It took 12 innings, but the Illini gutted out a 3-2 victory over the Herd.

The last time the Illinois softball team visited Kentucky, the Illini left John Cropp Stadium with their 23rd and final loss of the season.

After securing the first winning season in four years, Illinois earned its first NCAA tournament appearance in six years. But after three games, the Illini were eventually bounced out by the Wildcats in extra innings.

Although Kentucky and Illinois share two of the four spots in this year’s Lexington Regional, the Illini began its quest for a national title against Marshall.

The Herd entered Friday’s matchup with 40 wins and was the first team to get on the board. Both teams were relatively quiet through the first two innings, but Marshall took a 1-0 lead in the top of third due to a pair of singles and some aggressive base-running.

With two out and two on, junior Eloise Tribolet scored the game’s opening run, but Illinois responded in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Sophomore Stephanie Abello sent a solo home run to left centerfield that tied the game up at 1-1. It was Abello’s 14th dinger of the season which is the second-most on the team behind Evans.

Illinois carried that momentum into the fifth inning where it would take the lead. A throwing and fielding error by the Herd allowed the Illini to get two runners on base. Sophomore Kiana Sherlund ultimately brought junior Leigh Farina home on a sacrifice fly to center field.

Marshall tied things up once more after a series of bunts. Senior Morgan Zerkle scored the Herd’s second run of the game, and with the bases loaded it looked as if her squad was ready to put a few more runs on the board.

But senior Breanna Wonderly had other plans. Despite a shaky start to the inning, Illinois’ starting pitcher stuck out freshman Elizabeth DeShields to get out of the jam and end the inning.

The teams would remain deadlocked over the next few innings and with the final at-bat of the game, Illinois had a chance to earn a walk-off win. But senior Jordan Dixon would not allow the game to end in regulation. She didn’t give up a hit in the final frame and sent the game to extra innings after a quick three-and-out.

Illinois and Marshall traded blows and momentum shifts as the game wore on, but in the bottom of the 12th inning Evans showed why she was selected to the All-Big Ten First-Team for the second consecutive season.

Despite being only 1-for-5 at the plate, the 2017 Big Ten Medal of Honor recipient proved she can show up in the big moments.

Marshall had a chance to make a play on singles by Sherlund and senior Ruby Rivera. Both hits appeared as if they’d be caught by the Herd, but both dropped after the defenders were a step to slow to the ball – allowing Evans to make a seventh plat appearance.

Evans’ walk-off single improves Illinois’ overall record to 38-18 and capitalizes on a big effort from her fellow senior. Wonderly pitched all 12 innings and kept the Illini in the game when the offense went through a drought. She recorded a season-high eight strikeouts and earned her 21st victory of the year.

Illinois moves on to face the winner of the other Lexington regional matchup between DePaul and Kentucky.


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