April 3, 2010
EVANSTON, Ill. -- No. 18 Illinois put runners on base in every inning Saturday and Northwestern did well to fight off the rallies early, but the Illini were able to break through in the latter frames to defeat the Wildcats, 13-1, in six innings.
Northwestern falls to 16-12 overall on the year with its loss, 2-1 in the Big Ten. Illinois' victory improves it to 25-4 on the season and 1-1 in the conference.
The 1 p.m. start time was pushed back to 2 p.m. while a weather front moved through the area. The tarp was pulled at 12:35 and Northwestern's field crew had the playing surface in immaculate condition as usual by first pitch. This same crew won the 2008 Stabilizer Solutions/NFCA Field Maintenance Award for making Sharon J. Drysdale Field the nation's best playing surface.
Illinois put an unearned run on the board in the top of the first inning. The leadoff batter reached via a walk from Northwestern starter Lauren Delaney (Jefferson City, Mo./Helias) before the senior fanned the next two Illini to the plate. A two-out error, however, allowed that runner to score and give Illinois the early 1-0 lead before Delaney concluded the frame with her third strikeout.
In the bottom half of the first, Emily Allard (Antioch, Calif./Deer Valley) worked a full-count leadoff walk before immediately stealing her team-best 20th base of the year. Kristin Scharkey (Yorba Linda, Calif./Esperanza) choked down on a slap to sacrifice Allard to third before Illinois starter Monica Perry hit Adrienne Monka (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga) with a pitch. Freshman Lauren Ackerman (St. Louis, Mo./Home schooled) ran for Monka, but was caught stealing to leave Allard at third with two outs.
(Bloomingdale, Ill./Glenbard North) made the most of her two-out RBI opportunity, lining a double to the fence in left center to score Allard and knot the game, 1-1, heading into the second inning.
Illinois got runners to second and third with two outs in the second inning before Delaney escaped, and again rallied in the third. A leadoff walk and single put Illini at first and second with no outs before Robin Thompson (Detroit, Mich./Martin Luther King) made the latest in what has been a series of spectacular plays for the junior this year at third base. A sacrifice bunt attempt was popped into foul territory, and Thompson was able to change direction quickly, take two steps and leap after it, performing a sort of face-down Fosbury Flop to get every inch out of her 5-foot-1 frame and snag the ball for the first out. Delaney then got out of the inning to keep the game tied, 1-1.
The Fighting Illini were able to break through in the fourth inning. A pair of singles through the infield followed a pair of one-out walks and a passed ball to push Illinois in front, 3-1. With runners now at first and third and still with one out in the inning, freshman Meghan Lamberth (Wildwood, Mo./Lafayette) entered the circle in relief of Delaney. Lamberth retired the first batter she faced on a grounder to Allard at short before jamming the next batter. That ball, unfortunately, fell just beyond the lunge of Allard behind second for a two-run single to give Illinois a 5-1 lead in the game.
Delaney (8-8) went 3.1 innings in the game, allowing five runs (four earned) on four hits and six walks with five strikeouts.
Illinois added a sixth run to its total on a fifth-inning bases-loaded sacrifice fly to left center, but Lamberth made sure the Illini stranded the other two runners to keep it a 6-1 game prior to NU's at-bats in the bottom half.
The Wildcats' batters continued to battle in the box without results, while Illinois pushed the game into run-rule territory in the sixth. Four singles, a walk, a hit batter and an NU error gave the Illini four runs to make it 10-1 with no outs in the frame. Jessica Smith (Encinitas, Calif./La Costa Canyon) relieved Lamberth at that point, retiring the first three batters she faced to end the inning, though Illinois made it 13-1 with a pair of run-scoring groundouts and a passed ball in that stretch.
Lamberth went 1.2 innings in the game, surrendering eight runs (five earned) on seven hits and two walks with two strikeouts. Smith's line was 1.0 inning and zeroes everywhere else.
Northwestern and Illinois will conclude their series at 1 p.m. CT tomorrow, Sunday, April 4, at Sharon J. Drysdale Field.