Starting pitcher faces top offensive lineup

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Meghan Montemurro

Great players thrive under pressure, and if the past weekend was any indication, Illinois pitcher Claire DeVreese is well on her way to becoming one of the program’s greats.

If facing two top ten teams in one day seems challenging, try being the starting pitcher. Add the ability to work through pressure situations and the shutdown of one of the top offensive lineups in the country, and you have a recipe for success. DeVreese did just that, leading to the 6-2 victory over No. 6 UCLA on Saturday.

“To know that you are going to have to work to get every batter out, every pitch, every inning and have really the mental mindset to do that, that was what really impressive from the start,” Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said of her senior hurler. “(DeVreese) stayed strong the whole game and put together one of her best performances against obviously an outstanding softball team with great tradition.”

The hard-throwing right-hander had numerous pitches in her repertoire to keep the opposition on their toes – including a drop, drop curve, screw, change-up, a rise ball and, of course, a fastball.

“Coming in as a freshman, I was one of the top pitchers back at home, and I was able to get away with just throwing straight fastballs,” said DeVreese, a Mishawaka, Ind., native. “When you come into a top program like (Illinois) and play top notch teams, you can’t get away with just fastballs.”

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DeVreese’s improvements have been evident over the course of her four seasons with the Illini. After rocky freshman and sophomore campaigns, DeVreese missed a large part of her junior season to undergo two shoulder surgeries to alleviate the pain she experienced game after game. Looking back, DeVreese is happy with her decision and has been pain-free so far in the young season.

During the past year, one area of focus has been pitch location, which Sullivan claims has greatly improved even from last season, and her staff ace is driven to succeed on both an individual and team level. That was apparent Saturday.

“What she did incredibly well was hit her spots and locate really well. The hitters were kept off balance,” Sullivan said.

DeVreese was the picture of consistency throughout the weekend at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas, as she went 2-1 with a 1.52 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 23 innings. While her only loss of the weekend came at the hands of No. 9 Oklahoma, DeVreese was glad her team showed they could play with the nation’s best.

“I approached (UCLA) like any other game, and my mindset wasn’t different than any other game,” DeVreese said. “It means a lot to be a leader and have the younger players look up to me.”

The win over the ranked Bruins is only the beginning of what DeVreese hopes to be an exciting and successful year, with visions of grandeur in capturing the Big Ten title and ultimately reaching the World Series.