Team seeks to play spoiler during senior weekend

By Troy Murray

Illinois softball hopes a packed Eichelberger Field on senior weekend will help them play spoiler against a Northwestern team needing just one win to clinch the outright Big Ten title.

The Illini will hold the third annual World’s Largest Softball Tailgate on Saturday against a Northwestern team who improved to 38-11 on the season with a mid-week sweep of DePaul.

“We love it,” said senior centerfielder Rachelle Coriddi of the chance to play against the best team in the Big Ten. “We have already discussed us as a team. (Head coach Terri) Sullivan was so excited Sunday night that she pulled us aside. That’s our number one priority – winning and upsetting them.”

Three seniors, Coriddi, first baseman Jenna Hall and outfielder Laura Zobrist, will play their last game at Eichelberger Field and hope to go out in style – doing their job to dash Northwestern’s hopes of a Big Ten title.

“Eichelberger Field is an amazing field, probably the nicest in the Big Ten and one of the best across the nation,” Hall said. “It’s been a privilege to play here. I’m definitely going to miss it. It’d be nice to get a couple wins to close out my career at home.”

A sweep from Ohio State and a split with Michigan account for the Wildcats’ only three Big Ten loses in this season. But Jenna Hall said she does not consider Northwestern unbeatable.

“I think we have a very good chance of taking at least one if not two from them,” Hall said. “It’s our senior weekend and with the tailgate, there will be a lot of energy and a lot of fans. The last couple weeks we’ve really turned it on and I definitely think at least one win is realistic.”

Illinois will need more than just fan support this weekend, as it goes up against a pitching staff whose earned run average is 1.39.

The staff is anchored by flame-throwing starting pitcher Eileen Canney, who has struck out 286 batters for an average of 10.7 strikeouts per seven innings, and has given up only 36 runs in 179 and 2/3 innings.

She is on pace to become just the second Northwestern pitcher to strike out 300 batters in a single season.

The junior pitcher earned the Louisville Slugger/NFCA Co-National Player of the Week honors this past week after two huge performances for the Wildcats.

On April 23, Canney went the distance in an 18-inning win against Minnesota, tying the NCAA Division-I single game strike out record of 28. On April 30, Canney followed up her record-tying performance going head-to-head against Michigan’s Jennie Ritter and coming out on top, striking out nine and allowing only one unearned run.

But Illinois is happy to get the experience of playing against a high quality pitcher in the regular season and considers it to be a tune-up for a potential Big Ten tournament matchup.

“Every game the last couple weeks is going to prepare us for postseason play,” Coriddi said. “Michigan and Michigan State were both very good teams and definitely got us ready.”