Softball Advances To Horizon League Title Game With Walkoff Victory Over Butler
May 13, 2011
CHICAGO - Senior Clair Donyanavard singled to left with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, driving in the winning run as the UIC softball team bested Butler, 2-1, in dramatic fashion to advance to Saturday's Horizon League Tournament title match.
"We talked throughout the game about how we needed to make adjustments, and we did just that," said head coach Michelle Venturella. "We talked before the game about how resilient we've been, and today is proof of that."
The Flames (24-21) and the Bulldogs (30-23) were knotted in a battle within the circle as the league's pitcher of the year Jenny Esparza and Devin Miller traded strikeouts and limited offensive opportunities for the opposition.
Butler would be held to a pair of hits leading up to the fifth inning, when centerfielder Erin Jackson singled up the middle and shifted to second with a sac bunt from Meaghan Sullivan.
Slugger Erin Falkenberry got the Bulldogs on the board with a double down the left field line, driving in Jackson for a 1-0 lead.
After Melinda Macias' leadoff double in the opening inning, the Flames would only have two batters reach on walks through six innings as Esparza held her own in the circle, fanning 11 throughout the duration of the contest.
Butler would look to add some insurance runs throughout, stranding at least one runner in every inning, including a bases loaded sixth when Miller took command, striking out a pair as well as connecting with Teresa Aguilar at home plate to put out Rachel Brummer to close out the inning unscathed.
The Flames would fall victim to a pair of double plays during the third and sixth innings, and were down two their final two outs after Esparza got Natalie Hernandez swinging for her 11th K on the day before Ashley Hewett stepped to the plate and delivered, driving a solo shot far beyond the left field wall of Loyola Softball Park for a tie ballgame.
Jenna Marsalli would follow Hewett with a looping single over second base, and Courtney Heeley would reach on a fielders choice as shortstop Kayla Gray went with the lead runner in Marsalli to put the Flames down to their final out of in the inning.
Aguilar, who had struck out in her previous pair of plate appearances, remained patient with a full count and got Esparza to walk her fourth batter of the contest, moving Heeley to second.
Donyanavard, who had been hitless since a plate appearance against DePaul on March 13, stepped to the plate with two on and drove a shot out past the grasp of shortstop Gray and into left field, giving Heeley ample time to come home from second to close out the game in the Flames favor, returning to the title game for the first time since the 2009 season.
"I'm just so happy for them," said Venturella. "They are really on a mission. As a coach, this the time you smile and sit back and let them do what they are here to do. We have no doubt in our mind that we have a great opportunity tomorrow and we know that if we stick to our game plan, we will have a good day."
The Flames will face the winner between Butler and Valparaiso on Saturday at 12 p.m. If UIC were to fall in that contest, a winner take all game would be played immediately after at 2 p.m.