Behind a six-run third-inning and a 3-for-4 effort at the plate from sophomore Kiana Sherlund, the Fighting Illini softball team earned a 10-2 five-inning victory over Marshall in an elimination game on Saturday (May 20) evening at John Cropp Stadium.
With the win, the Illini (39-19) advance to just their second-ever NCAA Regional Final in program history and will face host and 14th-seeded Kentucky at 11 a.m. CT. UI will need two victories over the Wildcats to advance to the NCAA Super Regional. The first Regional Final appearance for the program came in 2004, with the Illini falling to No. 3 seed LSU in the Waco, Texas Regional.
"It is nice to see my actual team show up," said head coach Tyra Perry. "I felt like we were aggressive on all fronts. Breanna Wonderly started us off great on the mound and our defense responded. Nicole Evans got a great hit to spark our offense along with Kiana Sherlund, who has been completely consistent throughout the entire tournament. So it was nice to see the fire, the aggressive play, and that is where we are going to stick and stay and finish the tournament with that type of effort."
Senior Breanna Wonderly stared and tossed two no-hit innings with one strikeout in the outing. Junior Erin Walker (4-2) entered in relief in the third frame and earned the win after allowing just two runs on three hits in Sherlund continued her hot streak at Regionals with a leadoff double to open the game, before senior Nicole Evans sent her 18th home run and 52nd of her career over the left field fence for the early 2-0 Illini lead.
The Illini offense then broke open in the third inning as Sherlund led things off again with an infield single and then came home on a wild pitch during an intentional walk at-bat for senior Nicole Evans. Sophomore Stephanie Abello continued the rally with an RBI single to centerfield, before redshirt-freshman Veronica Ruelius added a two-run single up the middle. RBI singles from junior Jill Nicklas and Sherlund then made it 8-0 in favor of the Illini.
UI added to its lead in the fourth with an RBI double from junior Annie Fleming, followed by an RBI single through the left side.
Marshall (42-12) broke up the shutout in the bottom of the fifth with a two-run home run from Briana Daiss, but it would not be enough to prolong the game as the Illini went on to take the 10-2 run-rule win.
The 10 runs was the most runs scored by the Illini in an NCAA Tournament contest in program history. Illinois scored those 10 runs on 10 hits, with Sherlund going 3-for-4 at the dish with two runs and an RBI. Evans knocked two RBI, two runs and a hit and was walked twice in the game, while junior Rowan McGuire added two hits, a run and an RBI in the win.