Illini softball's marathon win ends thanks to late heroics

Illini softball's marathon win ends thanks to late heroics

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Breanna Wonderly could have kept pitching.


But Nicole Evans decided that the 173 pitches the Illini softball hurler tossed during her team’s opening NCAA tournament game was enough.

Evans delivered the game-winning hit, an opposite-field single to right center field, to score Kiana Sherlund from second base, and give Illinois a dramatic 3-2 win in 12 innings against Marshall.

“Going into that inning, my only thought was to end this for Breanna,” Evans said. “She pitched her butt off out there so I wanted to end it ... and I didn’t need to hit a home run. I just needed to get it to the outfield because we have great speed.”

Great pitching, too. The Illini (38-18) advanced to the winner’s bracket of the four-team regional at John Cropp Stadium, and an 11 a.m. game today against host Kentucky (37-18), mainly thanks to the right arm of Wonderly.

The senior scattered eight hits in throwing all 12 innings and striking out eight. She was most effective in extra innings, limiting Marshall (41-11) to only one hit after the seventh inning.

“I just had to get three outs, and I knew my offense was going to scratch a run for us eventually,” Wonderly said. “Adrenaline kicks in. You just want to keep fighting for the team.”

Beat Kentucky, and Illinois is one win away from the program’s first-ever super-regional appearance. Lose against the Wildcats, and Illinois will face either DePaul (29-22) or Marshall again at 4 p.m. today in an elimination game.

Complementing Evans (2 for 6) and Sherlund (2 for 5, RBI) was Annie Fleming, who went 3 for 5 with a solo home run.

“It was definitely a staring contest, like who was going to blink first,” Illinois coach Tyra Perry said.

And it wasn’t Wonderly. Or Evans.

“In the dugout we were just saying, ‘Outlast them,’ ” Evans said. “We were going to play as long as we had to win the game.”