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May 5, 2012
URBANA, Ill. - The Penn State softball team faced two early deficits and rallied twice, but dropped both games to Illinois at hot Eichelberger Field on Saturday. Illinois took the opener 4-2 before earning a 6-3 win in the nightcap. Cassidy Bell went 3-for-6 with two walks, two doubles, two runs scored and two stolen bases for the Nittany Lions. Bell raised her season average to .405 for the season, which ranks second best for a single season.
In search of its fourth-straight comeback victory, Penn State's rally fell short of the Fighting Illini in a 4-2 game one loss. Bell paced the offense with a 2-for-3 outing, scoring both of Penn State's runs and walking during another at-bat. Senior Lisa Akamine (Escondido, Calif.) allowed one earned run during her complete game performance, striking out four and allowing seven Illini hits, snapping her four-game winning streak.
Illinois jumped out to a 4-0 lead on two hits and two errors. Alex Booker scored on a throwing error at first base before another error scored the second run with no outs. A single by Brittany Sanchez made it 3-0 and a sacrifice fly to leftfield scored Jess Perkins for the fourth run.
Penn State fought back in the third as the Nittany Lions scored on a peculiar play. Alicia Walker (Los Alamitos, Calif.) earned her first run batted in, popping an offering into the Illinois dugout caught by catcher Stephanie Cuevas. Bell alertly ran home to score as no one covered the plate, cutting the lead to 4-1. Earlier in the inning, Alyssa Sovereign (La Canada, Calif.) singled and Bell's double sent her home, but Sovereign was cut down at the plate.
The Nittany Lions put together a rally in the fifth with a two outs. Bell and Walker singled, advancing a base on stolen bases before Kailyn Johnson (Yorba Linda, Calif.) walked on a full count to load the bases. Lauren Yao (Los Angeles, Calif.) sent a slow roller to shortstop, beating out the throw to score Bell and make it a 4-2 game. A ground out ended the threat and held the Illinois lead.
Penn State showed its resilience in the seventh, looking to overcome its fourth straight deficit. Last weekend, PSU stormed back in all three wins over Minnesota, while trailing. Yao reached first on a strikeout wild pitch before an error at second base put two runners on for Liz Presto (Bethlehem, Pa.). Last week's game one hero couldn't come through in the clutch as she grounded out to second base ending the game.
Illinois starter Pepper Gay improved to 21-13 going all seven, allowing seven hits, two earned runs, four walks and striking out seven. Penn State made her work, forcing the Illini ace to throw 168 pitches on a hot sunny day at Eichelberger Field.
Meanwhile, Akamine continued her rise through the Penn State record books, notching her 50th career complete game, putting her two back of Ashley Esparza (2005-08) and Missy Beseres (2002-06) for fourth all-time. She is also tied for fourth with Jaci Kalp in appearances (117), while moving into eighth in single-season strikeouts (167).
The Lions fell into a 6-0 hole after two innings but couldn't find enough offense to overcome the deficit, falling 6-3 in the nightcap to Illinois.
Kelly Wedel started the scoring for the Illini in the first inning, hitting her second home run off the top of the wall in centerfield for a grand slam and a 4-0 lead. Meredith Hackett followed up with a two-run double in the second inning to stretch the lead to 6-0.
The Nittany Lions got both of those runs back in the third off Illini starter Jackie Guy. Bell doubled home Ashley Todd (Mill Creek, Wash.), who led off with a walk, and pushed Shannon Hutchinson (Sewell, N.J.) to third base. Walker lifted her second sacrifice fly of the game to leftfield to score Hutchinson, cutting the Illini advantage to 6-2. In a single day, Walker moved into Penn State's lead in sacrifice flies, doubling the team's output from two to four.
Penn State kept fighting, getting another run back in the top of the fourth as Presto laced a booming shot over the leftfield wall for her first collegiate home run. Presto became the eighth different Nittany Lion to hit a home run this season, inching PSU within three runs at 6-3.
The home run knocked Guy (5-10) out of the game, ending her day after four innings with three hits against and all three runs earned as Gay returned to the circle. Gay went the final three innings to earn the save.
Freshman Marissa Diescher (Livingston Manor, N.Y.) started her 19th game of the season, but lasted one-plus inning and being charged with all six runs. Sophomore Jordan Wheatley (Troy, Mich.) came on in relief, effectively shutting the door on the Illini offense aside from a double to Hackett. Wheatley pitched six innings five innings allowing four hits without a run to her name while striking out two and walking two.
The Lions tried to put another across in the sixth, but Yao was stranded there as the Lions left five on base during the ball game. In the seventh, Todd earned a leadoff walk as Rachel Myers (Millheim, Pa.) advanced to second on a sacrifice by Hutchinson.
Penn State and Illinois return to the diamond on Sunday for a 11:30 a.m. ET game, which will be shown on Big Ten Network at 3:00 p.m. The game will have live stats on GameTracker and commentary on Twitter (@PSULionSoftball) and Facebook (PennStateSoftball).
Penn State returns home on May 11-12 for the final home series of the year against Ohio State. Nittany Lion softball will be honoring a ticket exchange with Penn State baseball as both teams are home that weekend. All ticket stubs bought at softball can be used for free entry at baseball and visa versa. PSU hosts OSU on Friday (DH) at 4 p.m., televised live on Big Ten Network, while baseball plays at 6 p.m. Saturday softball is at 1:00 p.m. for Senior Day, while baseball continues its three-game series Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The ticket stubs can be used any day of either game.