Birk Helps `Birds Come from Behind for Win
April 14, 2006
NORMAL, Ill. - It took a tremendous effort, but the Illinois State softball team came from three runs down to plate a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh as the Redbirds claimed a 5-4 victory over Evansville at Redbird Softball Complex Friday evening. With one out and the bases full of `Birds, winning pitcher Stacy Birk stepped to the plate and drove in the winning run with a RBI single to right center. The win moved ISU's record to 25-11 and 11-4 in the Missouri Valley Conference, and put head coach Melinda Fischer one victory away from career win No. 700.
"You think so much in games like this there were so many opportunities for both teams, and so many missed opportunities," Fischer said. "I give a lot of credit to the mental toughness and tenacity of our players for going after it. Their record is deceiving. They are a great hitting ball club. You need to be able to hit with them and contain their bats at the same time. We need to do a better job with that tomorrow."
Evansville (17-19, 4-11) roughed up Illinois State starter Shannon Nicholson to take a 3-0 lead in the top of the third. Emily Werner started the frame with her second hit of the game, an infield single. The ensuing batter reached safely as the `Birds opted to go to second to get the lead runner, but Werner had a good jump off the bag as both runners were safe. Brittany Herald singled down the first baseline, loading the bases with no one out. A Liz Mooney liner to left field plated the first Evansville run, as the bases remained full and Nicholson was knocked out of the game.
Birk (12-6), who was on in relief, surrendered a two-run single to Amanda Ockomon as the Purple Aces took a 3-0 lead. But Birk settled down after that, striking out conference home run leader Alicia Laraway and inducing a pair of groundouts to escape the inning. Birk finished the game with one strikeout and one earned run, on a home run by Ashley Hobbs, as she scattered four hits.
With one out in the fifth, Kaprice Williams took a 2-2 pitch for a ride over the centerfield wall. Williams' second career homer, and second home of the season, cut Illinois State's deficit to two. Tiffany Prager added a single to the left side, knocking Aces' starter Jacki Bradley out of the game. Hobbs came on in relief and immediately made her presence felt. She retired the first two batters she faced to get out of the fifth, and then knocked a home run over the wall in right center to leadoff the sixth putting Evansville up, 4-1.
Kelsey Warning helped the `Birds get two runs back in the bottom of the sixth. After Amber Smith walked to begin the inning, Warning sent an 0-1 offering over the wall in straight-away center to bring ISU closer as she cut the Purple Aces' lead down to one. Illinois State then had the tying run, Birk, reach on a walk with no one out. A sacrifice bunt moved her over to second, but the Redbirds were unable to get her around after Bradley reentered and retired the next two batters.
Down to the final at bat, ISU's Prager stepped up and hit a bloop single that landed just behind the third base bag as the third baseman mistimed her jump. Danny Murphy (3-3) then came in to pitch for the Aces. The sophomore righty gave up three straight walks after a Redbird sacrifice bunt, allowing Prager to cross and tie the score at 4-4 setting up Birk's decisive hit.
Warning drove in three of the Redbirds' runs, while Prager was the only Redbird with more than one hit. Mooney went three-for-four for the Aces, as they out-hit Illinois State, 9-8.
"That was a really exciting ball game, and I'm happy for Stacy (Birk) because I know she didn't want to give up that home run," Fischer said. "A lot of times pitchers don't get opportunity to hit and help out their team offensively, so I'm really happy for her. I think we got too antsy in sixth. We were swinging too early in the count, I really thought if we got deeper in count I think we would have gotten better pitches to hit."