Women’s record rebounds with key Big Ten victories

llinois softball player Rachelle Coriddi stands at bat during the Illinois-Iowa softball game on March 31. Tessa Pelias

llinois softball player Rachelle Coriddi stands at bat during the Illinois-Iowa softball game on March 31. Tessa Pelias

By Troy Murray

By Troy Murray

Staff writer

Since falling to 1-5 in the second week of conference play, the Illini have come storming back and look like a completely different team. After winning five of its last seven games, including a sweep against Penn State, Illinois is back in the Big Ten conference race.

Illinois will try to keep its hot play up against in-state rival Illinois State on Tuesday at Eichelberger Field in Urbana. The Redbirds, who have won eight of their last nine games, seem to be on a similar path as the Illini.

“The team and the coaching staff recognize we’re playing solid in all aspects of the game,” said head coach Terri Sullivan. “We’re confident in every phase of the game. We know that this is the time of the year that you want to have all cylinders on.”

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Taking two out of three from Purdue and Indiana was invaluable according to Sullivan, and the team hopes it can ride the wins for the rest of conference play and into the postseason.

“We had some must-wins in the weekend for positioning in the conference and in conference tournament race,” Sullivan said. “For the most part, we came ready to win and we’re very proud we came away with the wins.

“Consistency is the key, and the players are really clicking on the field together. We want to keep up the feeling like we’re playing at the highest level.”

Both teams boast high-powered offenses that figure to give opposing pitchers fits. Illinois State is scoring 5.56 runs per game, which ranks 18th in the nation, while Illinois is ranked 25th with 5.37 runs per game.

Freshman first baseman Amber Smith has gone deep 13 times this season and will pose a big threat to the Illinois pitching staff.

Illinois State is an experience-laden team with six starters that are either juniors or seniors.

“Illinois State is a not just a good team in their conference, they’re considered one of the better teams in the country,” Sullivan said. “Obviously being near us, it’s a pretty big rivalry and we always have good battles with them.”

As a team, Illinois has hit 38 homers on the season, good for 21st in the national rankings.

Leading the charge for the Illini on the offensive end is senior first baseman Jenna Hall and sophomore clutch hitter Angelena Mexicano. Hall has a .495 average and an impressive .922 slugging percentage with 33 runs batted in and a team- leading 12 home runs. Hall ranks third in the nation in batting average and slugging percentage.

Mexicano has been hot of late, collecting RBIs with ease. After starting the season slow, she’s taken off, hitting nine homers and driving in a conference-leading 44 runs. She ranks 20th in the nation with 1.08 runs batted in a game.

“We have hitters that hit for power, hitters that hit for average, and we have make-it-happen players at the plate,” Sullivan said. “Angelena is a combination of all those things. It’s tough with Jenna Hall to call her the best hitter, but she’s definitely one of our most threatening and balanced hitters.”