The Illinois State softball team (17-23, 8-5 MVC) is in the midst of its best stretch of the season.
Thanks to a number of elite pitching performances and timely offensive rallies, the Redbirds swept the Evansville Purple Aces this past weekend to extend their win streak to seven games.
After a 1-4 start in the MVC, the Redbirds have hit their stride, moving up to third in the Missouri Valley Conference standings.
“We have put entire ballgames together, not just relying on pitching, hitting and defense, but really been able to put all components together and play solid throughout,” said head coach Melinda Fischer.
Game One: Illinois State 2, Evansville 1
It was a pitcher’s duel to open the series as ISU’s Sarah Finck and Evansville’s Morgan Florey took the circle in this one. After both teams went scoreless in the first five innings, Purple Aces’ shortstop Lindsay Renneisen homered to left in the sixth inning to give Evansville a late 1-0 lead.
The Redbirds responded in the bottom of the frame, as a double off the bat of Riley Strandgard brought home Shannon Felde and Alex Caliva to put the Redbirds in front 2-1.
Finck would step into the circle once again in the top of the seventh to close out the Purple Aces. Evansville threatened to tie the game with runners on the corners, but a strikeout and a fielder’s choice ended the game, giving ISU the series-opening win.
Finck was sensational in what was her eighth win of the season. The senior right-hander had a season-high seven strikeouts in her eighth complete game of the season.
Game Two: Illinois State 4, Evansville 2
The Redbirds once again received a strong performance from their starting pitcher. Freshman Morgan Day mirrored the performance that Sarah Finck had in game one, pitching a complete game giving up two earned runs on three hits, while posting a career-high nine strikeouts en route to her seventh victory of the season.
After being shut out the first three innings, the Redbirds scored a pair of runs in each the fourth and fifth innings to jump out to a 4-0 lead.
Riley Hale led the way for the Redbirds as she went 2-3 and scored what would end up being the game-winning run in this matchup.
Game Three: Illinois State 4, Evansville 2
It wasn’t an ideal start for the Redbirds in the series finale, as Sarah Finck allowed runs in the first and third inning, giving the Purple Aces an early 2-0 lead.
But the Redbirds were able to keep the deficit at two thanks to the strong relief performance from Ali Domkuski. The junior right-hander pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up only four hits with a career-high nine strikeouts. It was Domkuski’s first appearance since her stellar relief outing against Indiana State on March 31.
“As a junior, I know always be ready, any situation you can be thrown in so just trusting yourself, trusting your team is the biggest key,” said Domkuski.
Once again the Redbirds would score all of their runs in back-to-back innings. Other than an RBI single from Alex Caliva to put the Redbirds on the board in the fifth, three of the four Redbird runs were a product of mistakes made by the Purple Aces. ISU scored its second run on a wild pitch in fifth, and brought home two runs in the sixth thanks to consecutive passed balls.
“[Evansville] made some mistakes and we took advantage of those mistakes and I thought we finally started swinging at pitches that we could hit,” said coach Fischer.
The Purple Aces put together a seventh-inning rally, putting runners on second and third with no outs. However, after Domkuski forced a fly out to left, Morgan Day was called upon to shut the door and complete the sweep.
The freshman right-hander would do just that as she struck out the first batter she faced and ended the game with a fly out to left, giving Day her second save on the season.
The Redbirds will continue conference play Wednesday when they head to Bradley for a mid-week doubleheader. They will return home for a weekend series starting Saturday when they meet up with the Drake Bulldogs, who sit atop of the Missouri Valley Conference.