Redbird Softball Drops Doubleheader to Valley-Favorite Creighton
Casey Gorrell had one of ISU's five hits Saturday
Casey Gorrell had one of ISU's five hits Saturday

March 21, 2009

OMAHA - Redbird freshman pitcher Jordan Birch went toe-to-toe with the league's top pitcher for six innings in game two of Saturday's doubleheader against Creighton, but in the end, the dominant pitching of the Bluejays' Tara Oltman was the deciding factor in a doubleheader sweep by Creighton over the Illinois State softball team. Creighton (14-8, 5-0 Missouri Valley Conference ) won game one over Illinois State (13-13, 2-3 MVC), 3-2, on a two-out, walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh, and then took game two, 1-0, in a classic pitcher's duel at the Creighton Sports Complex in Omaha.

Birch was the hard-luck loser in Saturday's second game that featured five hitless innings by both the Redbird starting pitcher and Oltman. Birch dropped to 7-5 on the season after she allowed one run (none earned) on six hits and struck out nine. The loss was the second-straight for the Monroe, Wash., native after she recorded seven-consecutive victories in the circle for ISU.

In game one, ISU starting pitcher Amber Smith (4-7) owned a 2-0 lead through five innings, but gave up two runs in the bottom of the sixth to Creighton and then the game-winner in the bottom of the seventh to suffer her seventh loss of the season.

Oltman (11-5) earned the wins in both games, as she allowed only five hits by the Redbirds on the day, which included pitching a one-hitter in game two.

Illinois State totaled just five hits on the day, with Smith, Niki Stansell, Casey Gorrell, Jessie Buker and Michelle Henderson each recording a hit apiece off Oltman.

RECAP: Creighton 3, Illinois State 2 | Box Score
Illinois State jumped on the board early off Oltman, the reigning Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of the year. Catcher Casey Gorrell drove a ground-rule double off the right field foul pole to place runners on second and third for ISU. Two batters later, left fielder Jessie Buker hit what looked to be a routine, inning-ending groundball to the Creighton third baseman, but the throw sailed over the first baseman's head, as two runners came across for the Redbirds.

Creighton threatened in its half of the first inning after loading the bases with just one out. Smith settled down, though, and induced a strikeout, followed by a lineout to right field to end the inning and keep the Redbirds' 2-0 lead intact.

Following the Redbirds' two runs scored in the top of the first inning, Oltman settled down, as she did not allow another ISU batter to reach base until two outs in the fourth.

Smith also kept the Bluejays off the scoreboard, despite allowing a slew of walks throughout the early innings of the game. Creighton was unable to get a runner past second base until two outs in the bottom of fifth inning, when with a runner on at first base, Bluejay catcher Laura Kratochvil sent a pitch deep over the left-center field fence for a game-tying home run.

Kratochvil did it again two innings later when she delivered a stunning blow to Illinois State with a two-out, walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the seventh to give Creighton a 3-2, come-from-behind victory over the Redbirds.

RECAP: Creighton 1, Illinois State 0 | Box Score
Game two featured a classic pitcher's battle, as Oltman and Birch, the Redbirds' fire-balling freshman hurler battled each other and the opposing team in the circle for five scoreless innings before Creighton got to the Redbirds for the lone run of the game in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Creighton capitalized on a throwing error by Birch in the bottom of the sixth to take the game's only lead. With a runner on at second and no outs, Michelle Koch bunted a ball back to Birch in the circle, but she threw the ball wide at first base and CU's runner at second came all the way around to give the Bluejays the 1-0 lead.

Birch had a no-hitter going through four innings, while Oltman shut down the Redbirds with no hits allowed until the top of the sixth.

Creighton tried to break the scoring stalemate in the bottom of the fourth, as the Bluejays placed a runner on second base with just one out following a walk and a sacrifice bunt. Birch wasn't fazed, however, as she quickly got a pop out and another strikeout, one of her nine on the day, to end the inning and keep the game tied, 0-0.

Birch's no-hit bid was broken up in the bottom of the fifth when Sara Loeffelholz lined a single into left field. Creighton extended that to place a runner on at third base with two outs in the frame. Birch again went back to her bread-and-butter, the strikeout, to get out of the threat, as she struck out pinch hitter Cassidy Nee to keep the score, 0-0.

The Redbirds put up their own scoring threat in the top of the sixth. After first baseman Michelle Henderson broke up Oltman's no-hit bid with a leadoff single off the left-field wall, two-straight sacrifice bunts by the Redbirds put Henderson on third base with two outs in the inning. A fly out to center field by Smith ended the threat and left the game scoreless heading into the final innings.

Illinois State will look to avoid its first series sweep in a three-game Valley series since 2005 when it takes on Creighton at noon Sunday in the series finale at the Creighton Sports Complex in Omaha.

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