Courtesy: Nebraska Athletics
Urbana, Ill. - The 20th-ranked Nebraska softball team was unable to overcome a slow start Saturday, as the Huskers dropped game one of a doubleheader at Illinois, 11-4.
The slow start came as senior right-hander Tatum Edwards had anything but her best stuff in the circle. Edwards (13-8) allowed seven runs on four hits in 2.0-plus innings of work, as she fought her control all game. In an uncharacteristic performance, Edwards allowed a pair of home runs. Entering the game, she had not allowed a homer in her last 16 appearances and had surrendered just three home runs all season.
After Illinois scored once in the first inning, twice in the second and four times in the third, Nebraska found itself trailing 7-3. Sophomore right-hander Emily Lockman kept Nebraska in the game by not allowing a run over the next two innings, before Illinois scored four unearned runs in the bottom of the sixth to all but seal the victory.
The Husker offense did its best to battle back from the early deficit, producing 12 hits. But despite looking good at the plate and having several hard-hit outs, Nebraska could not deliver enough timely hits. NU stranded seven in the game and was just 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and that one hit did not score a run.
Illinois' pitching staff was boosted giving up only walk in the game, allowing the staff to successfully scatter the 12 hits it allowed. Brandi Needham (13-6) earned the win, allowing four runs in 5.0 innings. Shelese Arnold picked up the saving by tossing a scoreless fifth and sixth innings, as Fighting Illini improved to 18-13 on the season and moved to 2-5 in Big Ten play.
Illinois grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a two-out, solo home run from Alex Booker.
Nebraska answered back with a three-run second inning. The Huskers took the lead just two pitches into the top of the second. Sophomore Alicia Armstrong put down a perfect bunt on the first pitch of the inning for a leadoff single. Freshman Marjani Knighten then blasted the next pitch well beyond the fence in left center for a two-run homer. Junior Kylee Muir singled two batters later, before sophomore Dawna Tyson delivered a two-out, RBI double to the gap in right center to give the Huskers a 3-1 lead.
The Fighting Illini came right back to tie the game in the bottom of the frame on another two-out home run, this time a two-run shot from Nicole Evans.
Both teams got leadoff doubles in the third inning. Nebraska was unable to convert its scoring chance before Illinois put up four runs in the bottom of the frame. The leadoff double, an infield single and a walk loaded the bases with none out. Edwards then hit the next batter to force in a run before a walk brought home another run and gave Illinois a 4-3 lead. Lockman was brought in mid-count on the next hitter and got two quick outs on a force out at home and a strikeout. Evans then came up to the plate and was jammed on a pitch, but had enough power to get a blooper to fall in shallow left field, bringing home a pair of runs as the Fighting Illini extended the lead to 7-3.
Nebraska got one run back in the top of the fourth. Freshman Kat Woolman reached on a two-out single then scored on Tyson's second two-out, RBI double of the game.
The Huskers then left the bases loaded in the top of the fifth. Tatum Edwards reached on a one-out single off the top of the wall. Following a hard line out to center, Knighten walked and sophomore Kiki Stokes singled. Muir then hit a ground ball that appeared headed into left field for a single, but Ruby Rivera showed great range to field the ball and then made a smart decision to throw to third base for the force out to end the inning.
Nebraska looked to remain close before a two-out error opened the door for Illinois to score four unearned runs in the bottom of the sixth.
The runs loomed somewhat large as Nebraska loaded the bases with only one out in the top of the seventh, before a double play ended the game.
The bottom of the order produced six of Nebraska's 12 hits. Tyson paced the offensive attack with a 2-for-3 day that included a pair of RBI doubles, while Woolman also went 2-for-3. Tatum Edwards and Armstrong also produced two hits each, while Knighten hit her fourth home run of the season and drove in two.
Nebraska will look for a split in game two of the doubleheader.