Illini softball splits first 4 games of season-opening weekend

After dropping its first two games of the season Friday, the Illinois softball team bounced back to sweep Saturday’s double-header at the FIU Combat Classic in Miami. Backed by strong pitching the Illini defeated University of Alabama-Birmingham 1-0 and routed conference opponent Michigan State 8-0.

The Illini (2-2) offense struggled in its season debut, notching just six hits in Friday’s two games, falling to Massachusetts (3-1) by a 4-1 score and to No. 25 Louisville (4-0), 8-3.

Illinois’ first win of the season came Saturday afternoon in dramatic fashion, as starting pitcher Pepper Gay blanketed UAB (1-2), tallying 11 strikeouts in a 1-0 extra inning ball game.

Gay, who recorded the loss against Louisville, allowing eight runs, rebounded Saturday, as the right-handed junior tossed a complete game shutout, allowing just two hits and four walks in eight innings of work.

Although the Illinois offense awoke against UAB with seven hits, it left eight runners on base and failed to cross home plate until the eighth inning.

With the tiebreaker rule implemented, freshman Brittany Sanchez was placed on second base to start extra-inning play, and reached third base after a sacrifice bunt by third basemen Kelley Wedel. Sanchez scored the first run of the game when the center fielder reached home on a wild pitch by UAB’s Amber Torres.

Junior starting pitcher Jackie Guy added her first win in similar style, throwing a complete game shutout of her own against Michigan State, with four strikeouts and just one hit.

Having scored just five runs in the first three games, Illinois’ run production exploded against the Spartans, scoring five runs in the first inning on its way to defeating Michigan State in five innings by mercy rule.

The Illini offense was led by Meredith Hackett, who knocked in the first runs of the game on a three-run home run to right field. The first baseman finished 2-for-2 with a walk on the night.

The Orange and Blue will wrap up tournament play against host Florida International (0-3) Sunday afternoon.