NORMAL — Illinois State outfielder Liz Andrews’ weakest contact at the plate all afternoon turned out to be her most potent poke of the day Sunday.
After hitting the ball hard and going 1-for-3 in earlier at bats, Andrews grounded a two-out single to right field in the bottom of the seventh inning to drive home Jhavon Hamilton with the game-winning run to give the Redbirds a thrilling, come-from-behind 5-4 win over Southern Illinois at Marian Kneer Stadium.
“I knew all I needed was just a hit, nothing fancy, so I just tried to do the job,” Andrews said.
Andrews’ hit capped a three-run Redbird rally in the seventh that allowed ISU (33-15, 19-4) to overtake the Salukis and take over sole possession of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference heading into the regular season’s final three games next weekend at Creighton.
The three seniors who played Sunday contributed toward making the final inning of their last ISU home game a memorable one.
“You never know what emotions are going to come to the ballpark knowing that, as a senior, this is going to be your last home game at Illinois State,” said ISU coach Melinda Fischer. “I thought our seniors handled it well.”
Senior pinch hitter Jessica Roche, who had come off shoulder surgery and was hitting .136 in only 22 at-bats, led off the seventh with a walk against SIU pitcher Danielle Glosson.
After Nichelle Harrison looped a single to left, Roche came home on a base hit by Hamilton to cut the deficit to 4-3.
A decision by the Salukis to try to cut down Roche at the plate proved pivotal. Harrison moved to third on the late throw home and scored a batter later when All-American senior Kara Nelson lifted a sacrifice fly to left to tie the game.
“I was really just trying to hit the ball hard and put it in play and give our base runners a chance to score,” Nelson said.
Senior Abby Olson kept the inning alive by walking on four straight pitches with two outs, and ISU caught an enormous break to keep the game from going into extra innings.
Elizabeth Kay became Glosson’s fourth strikeout victim, but when the third strike was mishandled by catcher Cristina Trapani, Kay beat her throw to first, loading the bases for Andrews’ two-out heroics.
Megan Warner relieved starter Jordan Birch in the third inning and shut out Southern (33-15, 15-5) on three hits the rest of the way to improve her record to 14-6.
ILLINOIS STATE 5, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 4
Southern Illinois 301 000 0—4-8-0
Illinois State 020 000 3—5-8-3
Two out when game ended
Glosson (L, 22-9) and Trapani; Birch, Warner (3, W, 14-6) and Kopp.
ILLINOIS STATE — RBI — Harrison 2, Nelson, Andrews, Hamilton. Two or more hits — Nelson 2, Andrews 2, Harrison 2. Pitching — Birch (2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO), Warner (5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 0 SO).
Records – Southern Illinois 33-15, 15-5 in MVC; Illinois State 33-15, 19-4 in MVC.
Lincoln College 5-2, John Wood 2-3
Lincoln highlight: Lincoln finishes season at 22-24. Plays in MWAC region tourney in Mattoon on Thursday.