Top-seeded Northwestern Downs Illinois, 4-1
May 12, 2006
EVANSTON, Ill. - Top-seeded Northwestern picked up right where it left off last weekend when it claimed the conference regular season title with a two-game sweep of Illinois, defeating the eighth-seeded Illini 4-1 for a semifinal berth in the 2006 Big Ten Tournament.
Behind solid performances from Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Eileen Canney and Player of the Year Garland Cooper, the Wildcats won their third straight game against the Illini after back-to-back shutout victories in Champaign, Ill., to end the regular season.
Canney, who struck out 12 in her first meeting with the Illini, needed just two strikeouts to reach the 300-mark in her career. She went above and beyond, fanning down 10 in her 23 complete game of the season. The senior hurler gave up five hits and one earned run, and walked two of the 30 batters she faced in the victory.
The Wildcats got things started in the first inning when senior centerfielder Sheila McCorkle ripped a single into left field with the bases loaded and two outs. Cooper scored from third, giving Northwestern the early 1-0 lead. Senior second base Ashley Crane lead off the second inning with more offense for the Wildcats. She knocked her fourth home run of the season to left center, extending the NU lead to two. With two out and runners at the corners, cather Jamie Dotson had a chance to stretch the lead even farther but lined out to centerfield.
Northwestern's all-time careeer-doubles leader, Cooper tallied another to the list (48), knocking a two-base hit to left center in the bottom of the fourth to score conference Freshman of the Year Tammy Williams and leftfielder Katie Logan.
Staring at a 4-0 deficit, the Illini lineup started clicking in the top of the fifth. Centerfielder Rachelle Coriddi kicked things of with a single to left, and Big Ten home run leader Jenna Hall got her first hit of the day in a grounder to left. With two on, the Big Ten's most potent RBI hitter stepped to the plate. Shortstop Angelena Mexicano drilled Canney's pitch down the third-base line, scoring Coriddi for her league-leading 49th RBI. The run ended Canney's scoreless streak of 21 innings, but with two runners in scoring position, she regained her focus and caught designated hitter Katie Martin looking to end the inning.
With the 4-1 leading heading into the seventh inning and a semifinal spot in sight, Canney and Northwestern fielders buckled down for three straight outs. With two to go, USA Softball Player of the Year Finalist Hall stepped to the plate again. She connected with Canney's pitch, but Crane matched her second-inning offensive performance with snazzy defensive move, diving to make the stop and flipping to Cooper at first for the out. Mexicano had one last shot, but sent a line drive straight for Crane to end the game.
The victory improved Northwestern to 41-11 overall this season and 11-0 on Sharon J. Drysdale Field this season. The Wildcats will take on the winner of game four between No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Penn State on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.