Courtney Pruner goes 3-for-3, hits several career marks

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – In a highly-contested game, the No. 20 Ohio State softball team fell, 3-2, to No. 18 Illinois at Eichelberger Field in Champaign, Ill. The Scarlet and Gray are now 21-11 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten while the Illini improve to 27-4 and 3-1 in conference action.

Buckeye head coach Linda Kalafatis knew it would be a gritty, tough game before the first pitch was even tossed. Prior to the 3-2 Illini win Saturday, five of the last eight games between Ohio State and Illinois had been one-run contests and two more had been decided by just two runs with all but one going in favor of the Buckeyes.

In the top of the seventh, it was just a one run game in favor of Illinois, with hits tied at six apiece. Ohio State starting pitcher Melanie Nichols had fanned four while walking zero while Illinois starting pitcher Monica Perry had five strikeouts and walked three through six innings. With bases loaded and two outs, senior designated player Courtney Pruner took a full count and stitched a single through the right side to bring home junior Dee Dee Hillman to tie the game at 2-all.

But in the bottom of the seventh, Illinois centerfielder Ashley Conrad hit a walk-off, solo home run for the 3-2 final.

“In these games it is usually the team that scores last that wins,” Kalafatis said. “Mel pitched really well against a good offensive team but I know she probably wants the placement of that last pitch back. We just had too many opportunities we didn’t take advantage of today.

“Now, we have to try and bounce back tomorrow to get the split.”

Pruner, who went 3-for-3, hit multiple career marks today. She launched her 33rd career home run in the second inning to pull to within eight of tying for the No. 2 spot on the all-time Ohio State career list, recorded her 138th and 139th RBI to move into the No. 3 spot and was walked for the 100th time in her career.

In the bottom of the first, Illini right fielder Hollie Pinchback drove in the first run of the game, scoring leadoff hitter Danielle Zymkowitz from third. Zymkowitz got on base with a tricky grounder through the middle before stealing second and advancing to third as Nichols threw Hope Howell out at first.

But one pitch was all Pruner needed to tie things up in the second, hitting her seventh home run of the season and 33rd career clear over the centerfield wall.  The Akron, Ohio, native knocked out the team’s seventh leadoff home run this season.

The game was tied at 1-all until the bottom of the sixth when Illinois pinch hitter Linnea Detrick hit an RBI single deep into centerfield to bring pinch runner Katie Lutes home from second.

For the game, both teams had seven hits. Nichols ended with four strikeouts and no walks and is now 11-2 while Perry fanned five and walked four as she recorded her 14th win.

Ohio State and Illinois conclude the series at 3 p.m. ET Sunday. The game will be aired live on the Big Ten Network.