For the first time since the 2015 season, the Illinois softball team earned a win over Northwestern as the Illini split their Big Ten Conference doubleheader with the Wildcats on a rainy Wednesday (March 28) at Eichelberger Field.
The Illini (22-11, 3-2 B1G) dropped the opener, 8-7, before rebounding for a 15-9 victory in game two. With the win, the Illini have now won 13 of their last 16 games.
The Illini last defeated the Wildcats (20-10, 3-2 B1G) on April 22, 2015 in Evanston, with the last win at Eichelberger Field coming on May 1, 2011.
Junior Stephanie Abello led the Illini offense with a .800 average on the day, including four hits, three runs and five RBI. Redshirt-junior Carly Thomas added a team-high seven RBI with four hits, including two home runs and a double, and three runs. Seniors Maddi Doane and Sam Acosta also totaled four hits and four runs on the day.
Game One: Northwestern 8, Illinois 7
The Wildcats (20-10, 3-2 B1G) scored in the first four frames of the day's opening game – including three-run innings in the first and third – to build an 8-0 advantage heading into the bottom of the fifth.
Needing to rally to continue the game, the Illini connected on three home runs – all coming with two outs in the inning – in the fifth, led off by a three-run bomb from Thomas, followed by two-run shots from redshirt-sophomore Veronica Ruelius and junior Alexis Carrillo.
The Illini would get the tying run to third base in the sixth, but that would be as close as they would get as Northwestern went on for the 8-7 win.
Junior Emily Oestreich (12-5) went 2.2 innings, allowing four earned runs on five hits and two walks and struck out two to take the loss. Sophomore Akilah Mouzon (2.1 IP, 4 R, 2 ER) and junior Danielle Brochu (2.0 IP, 2 H, 3 BB) also saw action in relief.
The Illini posted nine hits, but committed two errors, while the Wildcats totaled 10 hits and one error in the game.
Game Two: Northwestern 15, Illinois 9
Abello put the Illini on the board to open game two with a three-run home run – her third of the season – for a 3-0 edge in the opening frame, but NU answered back in the top of the second as a two-run double, followed by a grand slam and a solo homer gave the visitors a 7-3 advantage.
A Thomas three-run homer – her second of the day – in the bottom of the second then started an Illini run of nine-unanswered scores, including a four-run third inning and a two-run fourth frame on a two-RBI Ruelius double propelled UI to a 12-7 lead.
A two-run double from the Wildcats in the fifth closed the edge to 12-9, but an Abello RBI single combined with a two-run home run from Doane in the bottom half of the frame sealed the 15-9 victory.
Oestreich picked up the win in game two after giving up just two runs – only one earned – on seven hits and three walks and struck out three in 5.0 frames. Mouzon (1.2 IP, 7 ER, 7 H) started the game for the Illini, with Brochu (0.1 IP, 1 BB) seeing action in the circle as well.
The Illini bats smoked 15 hits to the Wildcats' 14, with both teams combining for six errors (NU 4, ILL 2) in the contest. Abello paced the offense with a 3-for-3 performance with five RBI and two runs, while Thomas added four RBI, three hits and two runs. Doane also went 3-for-4 with three runs and two RBI in the win.
The Illini head to Minneapolis, Minn., for a three-game conference series at Minnesota on March 30-April 1 in Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. Illinois and the Gophers are set for a 3 p.m. CT first pitch on Friday, followed by a 1 p.m. start on Saturday and a 12 p.m. start on Sunday.
Information courtesy of fightingillini.com.