Softball takes break following big battles in Texas tournament

By Rich Mayor

Illinois softball experienced both ups and downs last weekend, during what proved to be one of its toughest tournaments of the young season.

The Illini (14-11) traveled to College Station, Texas, to participate in the Aggie Classic, a tournament hosted by No. 3 Texas A&M.; BYU (12-10) and No. 18 Louisiana-Lafayette (15-5) joined the Illini and the Aggies in the field.

Illinois got off to a less-than-ideal start in the tournament against BYU on Friday, suffering a 10-0 loss at the hands of the Cougars. The team regrouped on Saturday, however, thumping the BYU by a 14-5 margin in a slaughter-shortened six-inning contest.

The Illini also played the Aggies (25-4) extremely close, trailing by only two runs entering the sixth inning. However, Illinois eventually lost 7-3. Texas A&M; pitcher Megan Gibson’s streak of 38 1-3 consecutive innings without giving up an earned run came to a close at the hands of the Illini. Senior third baseman Shanna Diller took Gibson deep in the first inning for her fourth long ball of the season.

“We had a lot of challenges this weekend,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “It was a great schedule, a really competitive field of teams. It’s good to know we can win the close ones, and we’re going to need to do that throughout the remainder of the season and postseason.”

The narrow victory came on Sunday, when the Illini defeated nationally ranked Louisiana-Lafayette 2-1 on the back end of a doubleheader. Senior pitcher Claire DeVreese (10-7) turned in one of the best performances of her career. The staff ace struck out 11, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and put the team on her back, helping the Illini knock off the favored Ragin’ Cajuns.

“She just got better and better as the game went on, and that’s what talented pitchers do at this level, they get stronger after the hitters have seen them two or three times,” Sullivan said. “Eleven strikeouts is a tough accomplishment against anybody, let alone against a team with the offensive reputation and power that (Louisiana-Lafayette) has.”

DeVreese’s mindset “wasn’t really different than any other game,” but her confidence rose as the game went on.

“That was the first time ever that I’ve had six straight strikeouts, so that felt good,” DeVreese said.

Leaving College Station with victories over BYU and Louisiana-Lafayette left a positive taste in Illinois’ mouth. The Illini now have a nine-day layoff before their March 18 contest at Illinois State.

“It’s all a good growing experience for the team,” Sullivan said. “Obviously at the end you don’t want to just be in the game, you want to win it, and ending the weekend on a victory against a team that beat the No. 3 team in the country (on Saturday) is a big positive for us. Now we can work really hard for the next two weeks before we play again.”