`Birds Rally in the Sixth, Hold on for Victory
May 11, 2006
OMAHA, Neb. - Strong winds and unpredictable bounces off the turf helped Illinois State rally from a two-run deficit in the bottom of the sixth and take a 4-2 lead, which held up for the final score as the top -seeded Redbirds down No. 5 Drake in first round action at the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. This is the first time that ISU has won its first game of the tournament since the `Birds won their opener en route to the title in 2001.
After Redbird starter Stacy Birk fanned the first four Drake batters, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the third. Mollie Daniels reached on a one-out walk and came around to score on Jaci Faidley's triple to right field. The Bulldogs added another run in the top of the sixth when Marilyn Buss reached on an error. An Emily Hajduk single off the left arm of Birk allowed Buss to get into scoring position. ISU's Tiffany Prager made a nice play on a fielder's choice up the middle by the ensuing batter as she tagged second on the diving stop, but Buss managed to score on the play as Drake (23-29) secured a 2-0 lead.
ISU (37-12) was unable figure out Drake starter Jessica Hicks until the fifth inning when Katie Guilbault hit a one-out double to break up the no hitter. However, the Redbirds were unable to get any more production until the following inning. In the bottom of the sixth, Tricia Gaither made it all the way to second as the Bulldogs' second baseman committed two errors on Gaither's hard grounder to the right side. Randi Patton followed with a double to right center to get Illinois State on the board. Following a strikeout, Birk doubled down the right field line as Patton crossed the plate to even things up at 2-2.
Kelsey Warning also added a double as Drake's centerfielder had trouble determining where the fence was and wasn't even able to make a play on the ball. Birk scored on Warning's double as the `Birds took the lead for good. A Casey Gorrell single to left field and another Drake error allowed Warning to score ISU's final run of the frame.
After a groundout to start the seventh, Drake threatened to score as it loaded the bases following a couple singles, a fielder's choice and a batter being hit by a pitch. With the bases full and two outs, Shanna Cook flew out to right field to end the game.
"I thought Stacy came out really strong but then she ran into some trouble. But she came back strong after allowing those two runs," ISU head coach Melinda Fischer said. "We got focused in on our goal later in the game and we really were able to take advantage of what the turf gave us. We got determined, zeroed in and did what we needed to do."
Birk (21-7) went the distance for the victory. She struck out four, walked four and allowed five hits. Hicks (12-13) shouldered the loss for the Bulldogs. She fanned four, walked a pair and scattered four hits.
Illinois State will take on Missouri State, a 4-0 winner over tourney host Creighton, tomorrow at 4 p.m. in a rematch of the top two teams in the league. Last weekend, the `Birds claimed the regular season crown by sweeping a doubleheader against the Bears in Springfield.