Softball contends with nation’s best, locks down on ‘D’

By Meghan Montemurro

In a single season, most teams don’t get two cracks at the No. 1 team in the nation, let alone in one weekend. Illinois had that chance on the softball diamond, losing twice against the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide this past weekend at the Golden Panther Invitational.

Despite dropping both games to the Crimson Tide, 6-0 and 2-0, respectively, the Illini were not discouraged by their results. Alabama boasts one of the top offenses in the country, led by All-American Lauren Parker’s .636 batting average, four home runs and 14 RBIs. While the Illini were unable to register a single hit against Kelsi Dunne and the Crimson Tide in their first matchup of the weekend, the team was in position for the upset Saturday.

Heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, Illinois was still in the game, trailing by only one run. Alabama then turned to its bench and capitalized on back-to-back hits by Parker and Allison Moore, scoring the all-important insurance run to go up 2-0 to quell any Illini momentum.

“In the losses to Alabama, we just didn’t get the offense going,” Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said. “Claire (DeVreese) pitched pitch for pitch with them.”

DeVreese, the senior staff ace, went 2-2 on the weekend, with her only losses coming against Alabama.

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On Saturday against the Crimson Tide, DeVreese gave up just one earned run on six hits in six innings of work. Illinois capped off the tournament in exciting fashion, defeating Florida International 7-6 following the heroics of senior third baseman Shanna Diller.

The Bloomington, Ill., native doubled in the game-tying run in the top of the seventh to knot it up at six-all. Diller later scored the game-winning run on an error by Florida International’s shortstop, Monique White.

The Illini finished the tournament 3-2 and are now 8-7 overall on the young season.

“One of the biggest keys this weekend was that the defense played solid fundamentally while under pressure and made the routine plays,” Sullivan said of her team’s improvement on defense.

In five games, Illinois committed just six errors and outscored the opposition 25-16.

Freshmen continued to play a key role in the team’s success. Second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz set the Illini’s offense in motion at the leadoff position, batting .412 and scoring five runs in the tournament.

Fellow freshman Hollie Pinchback had a solid weekend as well, hitting a home run and tallying four RBIs as the designated hitter.

“Being the leadoff hitter gets the team going,” Zymkowitz said. “I’m up for the challenge, and I try to get the offense ready to go.”

The power surge continued for Illinois as the team connected for four home runs.

Senior shortstop Angelena Mexicano led the way, hitting a grand slam – the third of her career – in a six inning, 8-0 victory against Connecticut.

In Friday’s game against Florida International, the Illini needed only five innings to take down the Golden Panthers, winning 10-2.

“I think we all came together,” Mexicano said.

“We reached our goals of being more aggressive. It really showed with how we competed with the No. 1 team and how close we came to beating them and how we mercy ruled other teams.”