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No letdown for Redbirds in conference romp

No letdown for Redbirds in conference romp

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NORMAL - The Illinois State softball team celebrated Tuesday's 3-2 road win over intrastate rival Illinois, and rightfully so.

Then the Redbirds went back to work.

Illinois State struck for three first-inning runs Wednesday before breaking the game open with a seven-run third and cruising to a 10-1 Missouri Valley Conference win over Indiana State at the Redbird Softball Complex.

"The U of I win was a big win for us," said Illinois State coach Melinda Fischer. "Sometimes being that high and coming in the next day to prepare to play, you're not really ready. They handled that well.

"I always get concerned about mid-week games just because there's so much other stuff going on. But I thought we really took it to them and came out focused. They took care of conference and that was important."

The Redbirds improved to 29-11 overall with their sixth straight win and took over sole possession of second place in the Valley at 14-4. Southern Illinois dropped out of a tie for second after suffering a 3-2 loss to Evansville on Wednesday.

"We're just relaxed and playing," said Illinois State freshman Amber Smith, who slugged her Valley-leading 15th homer in the third. "We're not trying to put any pressure on ourselves.

"We're just trying to go out and play like we know how to play - hit the ball, play good defense, pitch well. You know, the basics."

Leadoff hitter Tricia Gaither drew a walk to open the first for Illinois State and scored when Randi Patton tripled past a diving Julie Damico in left field. Patton scored on a wild pitch by Natalie Kopp (1-3) to make it 2-0.

The Redbirds then loaded the bases on two walks and a double by winning pitcher Stacy Birk, setting up Katie Guilbault's sacrifice fly that staked Birk to a 3-0 advantage.

"It was big," Gaither said of Illinois State's quick start. "It kind of puts the other team down (mentally) right off the bat."

Smith's two-run homer to center field capped the seven-run third and pushed her league-leading RBI total to 44. Smith needs three homers to tie Emily Kruger's Valley and school single-season record of 18 set in 2004.

Illinois State's third-inning outburst also featured a two-run double by Patton, a two-run single by Gaither and an RBI single by Kaprice Williams.

That was plenty of cushion for Birk (14-6), who allowed four hits and one earned run in five innings. The game was called after 4½ innings because of the eight-run rule.

Indiana State (18-21, 6-12) scored its lone run in the fourth on a bases-loaded walk by Yvette Tovar. The Sycamores, who lost twice to Illinois State last month in Terre Haute, Ind., played without ace pitcher Darcy Wood who was nursing an ankle injury.

"Indiana State was a little short-handed in the circle today," Fischer said. "The good thing about it is we did what we're capable of doing against that kind of pitching. Sometimes you don't always have that happen for you."

Illinois State will end its home schedule this weekend with a three-game series against Wichita State. The teams will play a noon doubleheader Saturday before Sunday's noon series finale.


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