Softball upends No. 6 UCLA during tournament

By Meghan Montemurro

UCLA’s 11 National Championships could not help the sixth-ranked Bruins on the softball diamond against Illinois. Behind starting pitcher Claire DeVreese’s dominating performance and consistent ability to work out of jams, the Illini upset UCLA 6-2 on Saturday at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas.

“We played one of our best games in our program’s history against UCLA,” Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said.

The win, which was the program’s highest against a ranked opponent since beating No. 5 Stanford in 2006, highlighted a roller-coaster weekend which saw Illinois finish the tournament 2-3.

DeVreese pitched one of the best games of her career, scattering eight hits over seven innings, registering seven strikeouts and only one walk, while giving up just two runs in the final inning. The senior from Mishawaka, Ind., had a greater effect than the box score would indicate.

With only one out in the bottom of the fourth, DeVreese escaped without any damage, leaving the bases loaded after striking out Amanda Kamekona and forcing Jennifer Schroeder to ground out to Audrey Gallien at first base. With pressure mounting to close out the game in the bottom of the seventh, DeVreese thwarted UCLA’s comeback attempt when the Bruins’ GiOnna DiSalvatore flew out to left field.

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“(DeVreese) kept her composure and came up with some big strikeouts when we needed them,” Sullivan said of her pitcher’s performance.

The Illini did not have the same success against No. 23 UNLV and No. 9 Oklahoma, losing 5-2 and 3-1, respectively. They were able to pick up a 3-0 win in the first game of the weekend against Cal Poly, leading Sullivan to call the team’s play “one of the best defensive performances” of the young season.

Senior third baseman Shanna Diller, who finished the weekend hitting .333 with three doubles and two RBIs, hopes the team can learn from the tournament and improve during the week of preparation before this weekend’s Golden Panther Invitational in Miami.

“One through nine, all of our hitters were taking their hacks and swinging away,” Diller said. “I think we came out more aggressive and playing to win.”

Illinois was unable to close out the tournament the way it started, as the team fell to California-Davis 7-1 on the final day. The Illini only pounded out three hits and could not hold on for the win after jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning.

Sullivan stressed that the “pitching and hitting are not there yet,” but was pleased with the flashes of greatness she saw.

“It took a while to get our bats going,” Sullivan said. “I believe our team has come together and learned you have to come out ready to play every game.”