Patton, Gaither Key ISU Offense in Wins
April 22, 2006
NORMAL, Ill. - Four-year starters Randi Patton and Tricia Gaither, who will be honored tomorrow at Senior Day festivities, obviously wanted to make their final home series memorable as they helped lead Illinois State (31-11, 16-4) to a pair of Missouri Valley Conference wins over Wichita State on Saturday. Patton hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth as ISU downed the Shockers, 1-0 in the opener. Then in the nightcap with two outs and the `Birds down 1-0 in the fifth, Gaither drove in the tying and go-ahead runs as the `Birds came from behind to win 3-1.
"We're definitely pleased with outcome of today's games. We started out a little tentative today, but hopefully we'll be more relaxed tomorrow and we'll be able to get a bat on ball," ISU head coach Melinda Fischer said. "Tomorrow's huge and rest of conference schedule is important. They're all important (conference games) but a lot of times you just don't realize that until it comes down to near the end of the season."
Much of game one was a pitcher's duel until Shocker leadoff Katie McGeeney got the first hit of the game for either team, a single up the middle, to start the fourth. A sacrifice bunt moved her over to second before Britnee Barnett singled through the right side to put runners on the corners. After Barnett stole second, Julie Darling worked starter Stacy Birk to a 3-2 count before hitting a line drive to centerfield. Patton caught the shot and threw the ball on a line to the plate. McGeeney who was headed for the plate, stopped about two-thirds of the way home when she saw that the throw was on line, but catcher Casey Gorrell managed to chase her down and make the tag for the final out.
"Randi really had a day. The key play was her throwing out that runner at the plate. You've got a fast runner coming in and she just made a tremendous throw," Fischer said. "Then Tricia's hit was huge to be able to score two runs in that second game."
Patton, who had both of ISU's hits in game one, drove a shot to right field for the Redbirds' first hit of the game to start the sixth. A sacrifice bunt and a groundout moved Patton over to third but another groundout ended the frame. ISU also got a runner to third base with two down in the third, but the `Birds weren't able to score then either. Wichita State got the go-ahead run to second base in the sixth and seventh but they weren't able to push a run across.
In the bottom of the eighth, Patton's two-out solo home run to right field on a 3-1 count resulted in a win for Illinois State. Pruis (18-9) suffered the loss for the Shockers despite allowing just a pair of hits and two walks while striking out seven. Birk (15-6) was the winning pitcher, scattering four hits, walking one and fanning seven. Each of the Shocker's four hits came from a different player.
Game two featured another pitching duel, this one between Illinois State's Shannon Nicholson and the Shockers' Barnett. The `Birds didn't get their first hit until the fourth inning when Patton reached on a one-out double to left field. Amber Smith followed with a single to left center to put runners on the corners. Smith stole second base as ISU had a pair of runners in scoring position, but a pop out and groundout left both runners stranded.
Wichita State (32-18, 11-8) gained its first lead of the day in the top of the fifth. Nicholson issued a two-out walk just before Stephanie De La Riva reached on a Redbird fielding error. Christina Rios then singled to shallow left field allowing pinch runner Lisa Jones to score from second to break up the shutout.
ISU battled back with two out in the bottom half of the frame. Kaprice Williams singled to left center and Tiffany Prager knocked a double off the top of the wall down the right field line as both runners got into scoring position. Gaither, who was swinging on the first pitch, then hit a single to shallow centerfield as both Redbirds came around to score for the 2-1 edge.
The `Birds added an insurance run in the sixth after Smith led off the frame with a single to left field. After advancing to second on a wild pitch, Smith remained at second as Barnett struck out a pair of Redbirds. However, Smith was able to score when Wichita State's shortstop drifted into left field to catch Gorrell's pop up but dropped the ball.
Nicholson picked up the win for the `Birds as she improved to 16-5 on the season. She scattered three hits, walked one and struck out two. Barnett (13-8) shouldered the loss for the Shockers, allowing seven hits and a pair of earned runs as she fanned five Redbirds. The only player with more than one hit in the nightcap was ISU's Smith, who had a pair of hits.
"Stacy and Shannon got a lot of key pitches in key situations and that was good to see. Now they've done that consistently for a few games in a row and that's exactly what they need to do at this time of the season," Fischer said.
Five Illinois State players will be honored tomorrow at Senior Day festivities prior to the final game of the series, which begins at noon. It also marks the Redbirds' final home game of the season. ISU's senior softball players are Sheila Emms, Gaither, Katie Guilbault, Patton and Jen Wright.