Long Balls Down Lehigh; VT Stifles Redbird Offense, Down `Birds 3-1
Feb. 24, 2007
COLUMBUS, Ga. - The Illinois State softball teams used three homeruns, courtesy of Jessie Buker, Michelle Henderson and Amber Smith, to down Lehigh, 10-2, in Saturday's first game at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga. The Redbirds couldn't continue their hot hitting in the nightcap, however, as Virginia Tech held the `Birds to just two hits and defeated ISU, 3-2.
Illinois State moves to 10-4 on the year with the loss, as Virginia Tech becomes the first un-ranked opponent to down the `Birds. The Hokies improve to 10-3 overall while Lehigh falls to 0-4.
Smacking her second home run of the weekend, left fielder Buker started the Redbird offensive attack in the top of the second against Lehigh. The right-handed junior took a pitch over the center field fence to score ISU's first run of the game. Buker finished the game two-for-two, scoring two runs for the `Birds.
The Mountain Hawks plated two runs of their own in the bottom of the second to take the lead, 2-1. Two routine fielders' choice plays were bobbled by ISU pitcher Stacy Birk and shortstop Kaprice Williams that resulted in the Lehigh runs. Illinois State shut down the Lehigh bats after the second, as senior right hander Shannon Nicholson came in to pitch in the fourth. Nicholson picked up the win for the `Birds, allowing just one hit and striking out three in 2.2 innings of work.
The Redbirds tied the game in the top of the fifth, as Jackie Williams walked to open the inning. She advanced to second on a past ball and then to third when Kara Nelson laid down a sacrifice bunt. Tiffany Prager picked up her first hit of the game when she singled to left field and was credited with the RBI as Jackie Williams came across to score the tying run.
Later in the fifth, with the bases loaded, freshman designated player Henderson continued her hot hitting streak, taking a Tiffany Curtis pitch over the center field fence for her second homerun of the weekend. Henderson's four RBI put the `Birds up 6-2, and her high-flying grand slam was the third homer in her young Redbird career.
The sixth inning for Illinois State looked much like the fifth, as Jackie Williams was walked to start the inning and then came around to score on a Prager single. Prager, a junior, finished three-for-four, with two runs scored and two RBI. This time it was sophomore first baseman Smith hitting the home run. Smith, who hit 17 home runs in her freshman campaign to lead ISU, took her first long ball of the year over the right center field wall to score three. Smith's RBIs pushed the Redbird lead to 10-2, which held for the final score.
Pleased with the offensive production of her team in the first game, Illinois State head coach Melinda Fischer was especially happy for Smith and her first homer of the year.
"I think all season Amber has been in a different situation than she was as a freshman for us last year," said Fischer. "She is being pitched to differently because she is seen as a threat and gets a lot of attention from opposing teams. They aren't giving her much to hit but Amber has had a lot of good at bats that have gone unnoticed because she hasn't been hitting those home runs she is known for. To a good hitter, that gets a little frustrating. I think this home run will help Amber feel a bit better about herself. I know it was important for her to feel like she was contributing to her team and I think she will feel that way now."
Virginia Tech got on the board early, plating a single run in the top of the first for an early 1-0 lead. Hokie second baseman Erin Ota smacked a single up the right field line and came around to score on a Stephanie Savre single up the middle for the game's first run. VT added a pair of runs in the top of the fourth to go up 3-0, after loading the bases on three consecutive singles.
Hokie pitching ace Angela Tincher took over from there, striking out 13 total Redbird batters. Tincher, who improved to 8-0 with the complete game, gave up just 2 hits to ISU's Nelson in the third and Prager in the fifth.
"We've seen quality pitching in other games this year," said Fischer. "But what Tincher had working for her tonight was a good rise, drop and curve balls. She didn't have a lot of change of speed but her pitches were accurate and we were swinging at them. I think she's a great pitcher and has done a fine job for the Virginia Tech program. She had some key pitches in some situations when we were threatening with runners in scoring positions."
Illinois State scored its lone run of the game in the bottom of the fifth when Jackie Williams was hit by a pitch to get on base. Prager then roped a double up the middle into the hole between left and center fields to score Williams. Prager's RBI was her third of the day and broke Tincher's streak of 53 2/3 innings of scoreless pitching. The Redbird second baseman finished the day with four hits.
"I think we've been playing really well and have been matched up against some quality opponents," Fischer continued. "We just need to come out tomorrow and see what we can do against the teams that have been in other pools throughout the tournament."
The Redbirds finished pool play with a 3-1 record, earning the top seed in the silver bracket. Illinois State will take on Baylor at 11 a.m. to open bracket play on Sunday, Feb. 25. Depending on the outcome of the game, the `Birds will face either Southern Illinois or Florida State, the other two teams in the silver bracket, in a 1 p.m. game to wrap up the weekend.