The Fighting Illini softball team got off to a hot start this weekend at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Florida. This is the sixth time in program history, and the first time since 2017 that the team has begun its season with four wins. Two of the Illini’s wins were against ranked opponents.
In Friday’s doubleheader, Illinois won the first game against Liberty University, 8-2. The Illini started early, taking a 2-0 lead after the first inning of the season. Sophomore Sydney Sickels allowed only two hits through six innings. The team combined for 11 hits, including a grand slam from sophomore Danielle Davis. She had two hits, four RBIs and a run in the game.
The Illini fell to the U.S. National Team 11-0 in an exhibition game on Friday night. The game was ended after five innings. In the top of the fourth, sophomore Kailee Powell accounted for the Illini’s only hit of the game.
Saturday began with a 3-1 victory over No. 21 Ole Miss. All of Illinois’ scoring occurred in the second inning. The first was on an error, then Powell was walked with bases loaded. Sophomore Avrey Steiner finished off the inning with an RBI single. Addy Jarvis, another sophomore, allowed only one unearned run and struck out three in 5.2 innings.
The Illini faced a tough South Alabama team and earned a win after a back-and-forth game. Junior Bella Loya got Illinois off to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, but the Jaguars responded with three runs in the bottom half. In the third, the Illini answered with three runs of their own. South Alabama scored in the bottom of the inning, which cut the lead to one. Saturday night’s 5-4 victory was saved by pitching from Sickels, who did not allow a hit in 1.1 innings.
On Sunday, Illinois finished the weekend with a victory over No. 23 Auburn. This game got off to a slower start, as it was scoreless until junior Shelby Stauffenberg notched a RBI double, followed by a RBI single from Powell. The Tigers were held to just two hits and the Illini went on to win 2-0.
Illinois will head to Raleigh, N.C. for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, which takes place on February 14-16. The Illini will face both Notre Dame and NC State twice.