DECATUR -- Millikin's softball team didn't let the new stadium jitters get to them Sunday, as the team celebrated the first two games played at the Workman Family Softball Field with a doubleheader sweep over MacMurray College.
Playing in front of a standing room-only crowd that saw fans congregate along the outfield fences to get a better look, Millikin dominated the Highlanders 10-2 and 8-0 to improve their record to 11-7 for the season.
Before the first pitch was thrown, a pre-game ceremony presided over by Craig White, Millikin's Director of Athletics, and Millikin President Patrick White honored the field's benefactors, Gary and Judy Workman, whose $2 million donation made the stadium's construction possible.
Craig White spoke of the importance of giving the new field a collegiate look.
"Every day these coaches teach these kids what will prepare them for life, how to be a good teammate, how to handle adversity, and how to handle success," he said.
President White was incredibly happy with the project
"This is amazing, this is extraordinary for Millikin, for Millikin athletics, for the entire university, and for the community," he said. "People driving by, seeing something exciting. I'm so glad there is such a great crowd today."
Senior outfielder Justice Miller also made a statement on behalf of the team expressing that the new facility surpassed their wildest dreams and that the stadium will improve the team and program's future forever.
The team must have taken her words to heart because once the Big Blue got to bat in the bottom of the first inning, they played like a team possessed.
The Big Blue batted around the order in that half inning, adding 8 runs, capped off by a three-run triple by third baseman Brooke Heimerl. That play could have easily been an inside-the-park home run, but instead it demonstrated some of the hazards of playing in a new field.
MacMurray left fielder Kaitlyn Brown slipped on the warning track trying to track down the ball, and the ball and her foot seemed to become snagged in the left field fence. Brown raised her hands to get the attention of the umpires and medical staff who quickly ran out to the help her get out of the fence.
The umpires awarded Heimerl a triple on the play, taking away what could have been the stadium's first home run, albeit, inside the park.
During the course of the game, it also became clear that a possibly unintended design feature of the stadium was that the elevated alley way located between the businesses on Eldorado Street and the field's outfield wall is a great place to park your car, tailgate, and have a clear view of the stadium.
While Chicago's Wrigley Field famously has Waveland Avenue on one side of the stadium that a slugger could hit a ball to, Workman Field has Oakwood Avenue running along its left field side and a strongly hit foul ball to that side could make it onto the street.
For Decatur residents who drove through Millikin's campus down Oakwood this winter, you couldn't help but notice the field's construction process and the vibrant green field turf standing out from the gray and brown wintry surroundings.
President White noted the Workmans came to him with the project, rather than the other way around.
"Gary saw me last May at a board meeting and said, 'Pat, we want to give $2 million dollars for the softball field.' I said to him, Gary, I haven't even made the pitch yet," White said.
"That's music to anybody's ears, certainly to a president of a university's ears."
After dominating the Highlanders in game one, the Big Blue bats stayed on fire in game two.
Catcher Alyssa Voegele came a hair away from smacking the stadium's first home run by hitting a 198-foot shot into the outfield that nearly made it over the 200-foot outfield walls.
Voegele also put MacMurray's base runners on their toes as she would frequently quickly throw down to first and second base to catch a base runner who was slow to return to their bag.
Both Millikin pitchers, Cathy Lebryk (4-3) in game one and Gracie Brookens (6-3) in game two pitched complete games, with Brookens tossing a shutout and allowing just two hits.
Millikin coach Katie Tenboer was happy that the pressure of the first game in the new stadium didn't get to her squad.
"I think the thing we talk about is consistency," she said. "Living in the moment. Living pitch-to-pitch, no matter the inning, the score, your opponent, that kind of stuff, and we really brought that kind of consistency today."
The conventional wisdom would be that a turf field might hurt you defensively as the ball would react differently from dirt, but Millikin assistant coach Whitney Sowers explained the turf has helped the Big Blue defensively.
"If anything, the field has actually helped our defense," Sowers said. "The field actually plays a little bit slower. A lot of turf fields you'll see that the ball skids on them. Here it actually comes up higher so our defense actually has to go to the ball."
"If you've heard of 'charge the ball, charge the ball,' it's the exact same thing."
The aggressive defensive play, especially at third base by Brooke Heimerl and Haley Toohill, was evident in the doubleheader.
"Brooke and Haley both do a good job of reading the bunt and our thing is fast-slow-fast. Fast to the ball, slow when you are getting it, and get rid of it quick. They did a great job today," Powers added.
Millikin will look to extend their winning streak today in another home doubleheader today with Illinois College beginning at 3 p.m.