The fourth-seeded Fighting Illini softball team gave top-seeded Minnesota all it could handle in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, before falling to the Gophers, 6-5, on a seventh-inning walk-off home run on Saturday (May 13) afternoon at Wilpon Complex/Alumni Field.
"We fought hard and had our chances but fell short," said head coach Tyra Perry. "Minnesota is a strong team. We put pressure on them throughout the game but did not deliver the knockout punch. We will continue to work hard to be the best team possible moving forward."
After loading the bases in the first two innings of the game, the Illini (37-18) finally capitalized in the second as senior Alyssa Gunther used an RBI sacrifice fly to left field to bring in junior Leigh Farina for the game's first run.
The Illini made it 2-0 in the third as sophomore Stephanie Abello knocked a one-out double to left field, before junior pinch hitter Jill Nicklas came home on an RBI grounder from junior Annie Fleming.
A five-run fourth frame then pushed Minnesota (53-3) ahead by three as Sydney Dwyer led off the inning with a solo homer and a Kendyl Lindaman grand slam made it 5-2.
Illinois battled back in the fifth as senior Ruby Rivera started off the frame with a walk and classmate Nicole Evans put two runners on with a single up the middle. Abello then delivered her 13th long ball of the season – a laser shot to right center - to knot the score at 5-5.
The game moved to the seventh still tied at 5-5 when Dwyer sent a long ball to left center for the walk off winner.
For the game, the Illini totaled four hits, while the Gophers posted nine hits and three errors. Abello led the Illini with a 2-for-4 effort with three RBI and a run. Evans added a hit and a run in the setback.
Senior Breanna Wonderly (20-14) started and went 3.2 innings before being relieved by junior Erin Walker in the fourth. Walker worked until the bottom of the sixth when Wonderly reentered the game. In total, Wonderly went 4.1 innings, allowing six earned runs on eight hits and five walks and struck out two. Walker gave up just one hit and three walks and struck out one in 1.2 innings of work.