Illinois Softball had ups and downs in the last two weeks, taking down the basement-dwelling Iowa Hawkeyes on the road as well as SIU-Edwardsville before being swept at home this weekend by Michigan. Illinois is now 27-17, with a 6-9 conference record, and is tied for sixth in the Big Ten currently.
Illinois’ offense dominated in the first game, as the Illini scored 12 runs on 12 hits, while holding Iowa to a single run in a game that was called in the fifth inning by the slaughter rule. Carly Thomas dominated the Illinois offense, driving in five runs on a 2-4 day with a home run, while Katie Wingerter backed her up with a grand slam. Sydney Sickels picked up the win on the mound, her seventeenth of the season.
Illinois scored 12 runs again in the series’ second game, but Iowa was able to plate 11 runs of their own. Carly Thomas led the Illini once again, going 3-4 with three RBI. Emily Oestreich picked up the win in relief, boosting her record to 6-2, while Sydney Sickels collected her fourth save of the year.
Looking for a sweep, Illinois was unable to pull it off, as they fell to the Hawkeyes, 4-3. In a game that went to extra innings, Iowa walked off in the eighth inning off an error. Veronica Ruelius, Bella Loya, and Katie Wingerter all drove in runs for Illinois, as Sydney Sickels pitched the entirety of the game before picking up the loss.
The wind was blowing out at Eichelberger Field on Wednesday, leading to an offensive showcase from both teams, dominated by the long ball. Illinois would win the game 13-4, in a game which only took five innings. Five Illini (Annie Fleming, Kiana Sherlund, Stephanie Abello, and Katie Wingerter) all hit homers, leading the way towards a victory. Taylor Edwards would pick up her third win of the year in the game, pitching 3.1 innings.
Following a series of games dominated on offense, Illinois opened their series against Michigan with a close, yet quiet, game which Michigan would win 2-1. Michigan jumped out to an early lead in the first, and the Illinois offense couldn’t put much together until the sixth inning, when Kiana Sherlund drove in a run. Michigan put the game away in the seventh though with a run of their own, to which Illinois could not respond. Sydney Sickels, despite holding Michigan to only six hits, would pick up the loss.
The series’ second game was another offensive bloodbath, as Illinois was able to jump out to an early 8-5 lead through the first six innings. Michigan was able to string together four runs in the final inning though, to give them the lead and the win. Kiana Sherlund went 3-for-5 with an RBI, while Katie Wingerter went 2-for-4, batting in two runs.
The third game went easily to Michigan, who won the game 16-5. Despite only being down 5-4 after the first inning, Illinois could not get much out of its offense after that point, and Michigan put the game away with seven runs in the seventh inning. All four of Illinois’ pitchers took the circle throughout the game, as Sickels picked up the loss.
Where They Stand: On The Bubble
Illinois still finds itself on the bubble at this point, and has a big week ahead of itself as the Illini travel to Big Ten leader Northwestern Tuesday for a doubleheader (which will be televised on BTN) before a weekend series at Ohio State.
The Illini currently sit at 43 in the RPI rankings, a vulnerable spot in terms of being selected as an at-large bid for the field of 64. Over the last four years, every team with an RPI above 39 has made the tournament field, while no team below 52 has. Over that timespan, only two or three teams at or below an RPI of 43 have made the tournament as an at-large team. Right now, Illinois will either be one of the last teams in, or one of the first teams out. It will come down to these next few weeks for the Illini to determine what will be put before the selection committee, and they stand a very good chance at making it if they can put a solid two weeks together before heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
Check out these photos from Saturday’s nailbiter vs. Michigan, courtesy of TCR photographer Jonathan Bonaguro.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!1