Softball comes up short against packed field over break

Claire DeVreese prepares to pitch against Bradley on May 3, 2007. The Illini play Illinois-Chicago today. Erica Magda

Claire DeVreese prepares to pitch against Bradley on May 3, 2007. The Illini play Illinois-Chicago today. Erica Magda

By Rich Mayor

The week off wasn’t as kind to Illinois softball as the team had hoped.

The Illini (14-16) traveled to Fullerton, Calif., for the talent-rich Judi Garman Classic, where they faced some of the best teams in the country. Close losses against No. 25 San Diego State, Utah and New Mexico piled on top of less competitive defeats against No. 1 Arizona State and No. 19 Fresno State.

The tournament began with a heart-wrenching 6-5 loss to New Mexico on Thursday, which set the theme for the entire weekend. The Illini jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, but couldn’t hold off the consistent offensive output by the Lobos (14-10) and eventually were overtaken. Illinois then faced Arizona State (34-2), whom they led 2-1 before the Sun Devils broke the game open with a four-run fifth inning and fell 7-2.

Although the Illini were able to battle for three scoreless innings the next day against Fresno State, the Bulldogs (28-5) scored two runs in the fourth and proceeded to open the floodgates in the fifth and sixth innings. The Bulldogs scored seven more runs and took the game 9-1 against Illinois. In the next game, Utah (16-15) was able to hold off a late Illini rally – after putting up five runs in the first five innings – defeating Illinois 5-2.

In their only game on Sunday, the Illini scattered seven hits and were unable to score, falling 2-0 to San Diego State (27-10). The loss capped a disappointing 0-5 weekend, which followed a canceled game against Illinois State.

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    The team has no regrets about the difficulty of the schedule, however.

    “Coming into this program my freshman year, what (the coaching staff) sold and what they promised us is that we’ll always play tough competition,” junior catcher Lana Armstrong said. “They’d find the best out there and play them, because obviously, to be the best you have to play the best and beat them. Every single person on this team knows that going into those games, in some of them we’re the underdog, but anyone can win on any given day. We’re out there giving our best shot, and we enjoy playing the best competition.”

    The upcoming week includes four in-state games for the Illini – two tonight at Illinois-Chicago and two more on Thursday against Loyola Chicago.

    The Loyola contest will mark the home opener for Illinois.

    But first, the Illini must take on the struggling Flames of Illinois-Chicago (9-18) in Chicago. This in-state battle will be a turf war for Illinois.

    “It should be fun,” Armstrong said. “It’s always fun to play in-state opponents because of the ‘rivalries,’ and it’s always a dogfight to see which team is the best in the state, and that’s what we’re pushing to be.”