Softball crowns new all-time home run queen but falls a run short in final of Miken Classic

By Rich Mayor

The weekend didn’t finish quite as well as it began on the softball diamond.

The Illini (12-8) traveled to Boca Raton, Fla., to take part in the Miken Classic and returned home as runner-up after going 4-1 in the tournament. Illinois suffered a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Florida Atlantic Owls (11-10) despite winning 4-0 on Saturday.

After a successful first two days, the championship game was a bit of a heartbreaker.

“We’re actually really disappointed in the outcome of the game, but it’s a really good lesson for us,” senior center fielder Sarah Bryers said.

“It showed us that we need to be ready to go every single Sunday, and we can’t have any less fire or passion for the last games in the tournaments.”

Illinois led the Owls 1-0 entering the sixth inning but fell victim to late rallies in both the sixth and seventh innings resulting from an error, two hit batsmen, clutch singles and two walks, snapping the Illini’s five-game winning streak. The loss was a letdown for a team that had high expectations for the Miken Classic.

“It’s disappointing for sure,” head coach Terri Sullivan said.

“We had a goal to sweep this weekend, our sights were set on that. Our goal is also to play at our best and to always expect our opponents’ best, and then may the best team win. It was a championship game for us, and we expect to always play well on Sundays because they’re very important throughout the year.”

On the plus side, Illinois’ offense blew up over the weekend, scoring a total of 32 runs to its oppositions’ seven. The Illini also hit nine home runs, with six different players going deep.

But one performance stood alone as the weekend came to a close, that of Angelena Mexicano.

The senior shortstop tied Illinois’ career home run record Friday against Rutgers and then took sole possession of all-time home run queen Saturday after belting her 34th big fly, passing former Illini All-American Jenna Hall.

Bryers, Mexicano’s fellow senior captain, said the record won’t go to Mexicano’s head and that “her main goal is for the team to win.”

“Oh it’s exciting,” Sullivan added.

“She deserves it, she’s worked extremely hard on all facets of her game, and she loves to hit. She’s an offensive shortstop. Angelena’s now done something that we’re really excited about, and it couldn’t happen to a better kid or someone who loves the game more.”