Facing some tough competition in the last week, Illinois Softball faced some struggles, coming out of the week 2-4 and with an overall record of 24-13. With a 5-4 conference record, they’re tied for sixth place in the Big Ten.
Illinois 2, Illinois State 1
Illinois took down its in-state opponent in an exciting game at Eichelberger Field, ending with a walkoff single by Kiana Sherlund in the seventh inning. The only run that Illinois gave up was unearned, as Taylor Edwards pitched 5.1 innings while Sydney Sickels picked up the win, her 15th of the season.
In a weekend series against the No. 19 Golden Gophers, Illinois was only able to come out with one victory.
In the first game of the series, Minnesota’s pitcher Amber Fiser dominated the Illini, keeping them hitless through four innings and striking them out nine times. The Illini would pick up four hits in the second half of the game, but were unable to score any runs, and lost 0-5.
Illinois was able to get revenge against Fiser and Minnesota in the second game of the weekend set. Illinois jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but Minnesota came back and took the lead in the top of the seventh on a wild pitch, and then jumped out to a 3-2 lead in the eighth with a home run. Illinois had an answer for it though, as Katie Wingerter hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning to end the game, as Illinois walked off with the win, 4-3.
Minnesota’s bats came to life in the rubber match, jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning off of Sydney Sickels, who had pitched the entirety of the previous game, which had concluded only 30 minutes earlier. The Golden Gophers would end up winning 10-3, as Illinois scored their only runs on the long ball, a two-run shot by Carly Thomas and another by Kailee Powell.
Playing a neutral-site doubleheader at Lindenwood University, Illinois was unable to pick up a win against a team of similar skill, with both teams receiving three votes in the most recent USA Today poll.
Illinois was held scoreless in the first game of the day, as Missouri won 2-0. The Illini only picked up six hits, and only had three players make it into scoring position. Sydney Sickels would pick up the loss.
In the second game, the Illinois offense jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a single by Bella Loya, but would only score one more run as Missouri would win it, 3-2.
The Road to Oklahoma City: Do Or Die
With Illinois currently sitting at 24-13, the Illini are in a very precarious position regarding qualifying for the NCAA Regionals. Last year’s team was snubbed with a 37-18 record, and Illinois’ record is right on track for a similar finish. Illinois needs to take advantage of this weekend’s series against last-place Iowa to get back on the right track — the last regular-season series against an opponent clearly behind the Illini.
Two games against non-conference opponents might help out Illinois as well, but the remainder of the Big Ten schedule, including five games against the two teams at the top of the Big Ten standings (Northwestern and Michigan, respectively), is going to be tough and Illinois will need to grind out some victories if they want to secure a tournament spot, and not sit on the dreaded bubble come selection time again this year.
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