NORMAL — Ali Domkuski had only thrown 8⅓ innings for Illinois State's softball team before Saturday's game against Evansville.
Yet the Normal Community High School graduate "knew it was possible" she could be in the circle sometime during the finale of a three-game Missouri Valley Conference series at chilly Marian Kneer Stadium.
"My biggest thing is, as a junior, I know always to be ready," said Domkuski. "Any situation you can be thrown in. Trusting yourself and trusting your team is the biggest key."
Domkuski was never more ready. She struck out nine in 4⅓ innings of scoreless relief. The Redbirds rallied for two runs in the fifth and another pair in the sixth to beat Evansville, 4-2, stretching their winning streak to seven.
"She hit her spots. That's what she was able to do," said ISU coach Melinda Fischer. "She got them to chase pitches she wanted them to chase. I thought she was totally in command of what she needed to do in that circle."
Freshman Morgan Day came on for Domkuski (2-0) with runners at second and third and one out in the seventh. Day, who beat the Aces on Friday, struck out Lindsay Renneisen before Brittany Hay's fly ball to centerfielder Alyssa Wiebel apparently ended the game.
However, catcher's interference was called on Brittni LaFountaine, loading the bases for Evansville's Morgan Florey. Day induced Florey to fly out to left for her second save.
"Give those kids a lot of credit," said Fischer. "You think you've won a ball game and have to go back and redo something, and now it's more important because the bases are loaded."
Evansville (11-26, 4-10) took a 1-0 lead in the first against Sarah Finck, who threw a complete game Friday in the first game of the series, when Florey delivered a two-out run-scoring single.
When Mea Adams opened the Aces' third with a double, Fischer brought in Domkuski.
"We thought we probably would need to use, and want to use, all three (pitchers)," said Fischer. "We had not played a lot of three-game series yet. This was our second one. We're still trying to find that magic starter on game three."
Renneisen greeted Domkuski with a double to score Adams. But Domkuski struck out the side to get out of the inning and then cruised through the next three innings.
"A little bit of everything (was working). I threw it all," said Domkuski, whose ERA dropped to 0.55. "My team had a lot of energy so that built me up more."
ISU missed a couple chances against Florey (8-13) before finally breaking through in the fifth. Riley Hale's two-out double moved Riley Phipps to third and brought up Alex Caliva.
Caliva's single to left on a 1-2 pitch drove in Phipps, with Hale going to third. Hale then scored on a wild pitch to force a 2-all tie.
"Her pitches were moving well. We wanted to see that ball and talked about tracking it the whole way," said Caliva. "She had great movement on the ball, so you're looking for something low in the zone, just get your bat on it and drive it through."
Shannon Felde led off the ISU sixth with a walk before Riley Strandgard followed with a single. After Florey got two strikeouts, Phipps walked to load the bases.
When catcher Eryn Gould let a pitch get past her, Felde raced home. Gould's errant throw trying to get Felde went past Florey as Strandgard also crossed the plate.
ISU has moved up to third in the conference, only a half-game behind Missouri State for second place. Drake leads the league with an 11-0 mark.
"We're really just trusting ourselves," said Caliva. "We did hit a rough patch, but we knew we had to stick to believing in ourselves and trusting the process and our preparation."