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Illinois Softball enters Big Ten Tournament on 4-game winning streak

No. 9-seed Illini play Nebraska on Thursday,

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Illinois Softball finished off its regular season on a high note, winning four straight games and picking up its first Big Ten series sweep of the year. The Illini are now 31-22, and sit at 44 in the RPI rankings.

End-of-Season Recap

The Illini got themselves out of an eight-game slump by picking up a 7-0 win against DePaul last Tuesday, in a game that was called in the fifth inning due to rain.

The game even got some love on Barstool Sports.

Taylor Edwards had a dominant performance on the mound, giving up only two hits in the game. Illinois’ offense exploded in the fourth inning, driving in six runs behind home runs from Shelby Stauffenberg and Carly Thomas, along with a Stephanie Abello triple.

In its final Big Ten series, Illinois was able to sweep Purdue, including two come-from-behind victories. The Illini won the series’ first game 7-2, with Taylor Edwards picking up the win. Sydney Sickels would collect the save, throwing 2.1 innings and not giving up a single hit.

The series’ second game did not start out ideally for the Illini, as they gave up six runs in the first inning. However, an incredible nine-run fifth inning turned the tides, and Illinois was able to win 11-9. In that fifth inning, the Illini would hit back-to-back-to-back home runs, off the bats of Stauffenberg, Alexis Carrillo, and Thomas.

The Illini finished off the sweep on Sunday, despite being down 2-0 early. The Illini would score 10 runs over the course of the game’s final three innings, leading the game to be called by the slaughter rule in the fifth. Akilah Mouzon would pick up the win in relief, giving up only two hits in 2.2 innings.

Big Ten Tournament

The Big Ten Tournament starts Thursday at Indiana, where the ninth-seeded Illini will take on eighth-seeded Nebraska, at 12:30 p.m. CT on BTN.

Illinois will be looking for revenge in a must-win game for them, after only picking up one win against the Huskers during a road series early on in conference play. These two teams are quite evenly matched, having similar records against the same Big Ten opponents, and this game could go either way.

The winner of that game will take on top-seeded Michigan, who has only lost one conference game all season — and is the favorite to win it all. Between the rest of the field, the two other teams to look out for would be Ohio State and Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are on a tear, winning five out of their last six, including two wins against Northwestern, who had previously been undefeated in conference play. Meanwhile, Ohio State has won nine out of its last 10 games, with its only defeat being a fluke against Iowa.

With the Big Ten Tournament being single-elimination however, anything is possible. There’s a considerable amount of luck in a single game, and in a tournament like this, it’s better to be lucky than good, especially with the implications that tournament wins would have for bubble teams, such as Illinois, trying to make the NCAA Tournament.

Where They Stand: On The Bubble

Illinois was for the most part out of tournament consideration before last week following its eight-game losing streak, but the turnaround this week has the Illini back in the running for one of the last few at-large spots.

As last week’s article mentioned, Illinois needed to win at least three more regular season games to even have a shot, and they were able to exceed that benchmark. With their RPI sitting at 44, the Illini have a definite shot of making it, as over the past four seasons two or three at-large bids have gone to teams at or below that mark in RPI.

Heading into the Big Ten Tournament, the Illini would likely secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament if they can win two games, including a huge upset against Michigan. Beating only Nebraska would put them at 32-23 and on the bubble, and losing to Nebraska would likely knock them out of consideration for good.

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