Softball splits road tilts with OSU over weekend

By Rich Mayor

Conference play opened on a positive note for the softball team this weekend.

After Mother Nature washed out their home opener with Loyola this past Thursday, the Illini traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to open their Big Ten season with a doubleheader against No. 22 Ohio State. In the Big Ten, the Buckeyes (22-7) trail only No. 6 Michigan and No. 16 Northwestern in the national rankings and are the defending conference champions.

Still, Illinois (17-17) feels ready for the remainder of its schedule, thanks in part to the teams it has met previously.

“We’ve played one of the toughest schedules in the country,” said senior third baseman Shanna Diller. “We play the best teams, and whether we come out with a ‘W’ or not, it’s definitely prepared us. No other team in the Big Ten plays competition at the level we play. I think we’re definitely ready and we just need to carry that over to each game the rest of the year.”

The first game started well for the Illini, as they scored two runs in both the third and fifth innings to open up a 4-1 lead. Illinois was then able to limit a sixth-inning Buckeye rally to only two runs and slam the door in the seventh, taking a 4-3 road victory from OSU. Diller and senior shortstop Angelena Mexicano had two RBIs each, paving the way for the win.

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“We were really excited to win the first game and open up conference play with a win, especially on the road,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “It’s tough to do against the defending champs of our conference and a team in the (top 25).”

The back end of the doubleheader was nothing short of a slugfest, as the Illini hit four longballs and put 10 runs on the board. But it wasn’t quite enough. Illinois squandered a 10-7 lead in the fifth, when the Buckeyes tallied three runs in the inning, plus another, tiebreaking run in the sixth. Ohio State took the game 11-10 and ended Illini dreams of a Sunday sweep.

The team’s previously tight defense unraveled in the second game, with the Illini committing six errors.

“In the second game, our defense really fell off, and so did our pitching,” Sullivan said. “We had too many walks and too many mistakes, and you can’t do that in conference play or obviously against a team in the (top 25).”

Disappointment wasn’t on the Illini’s mind afterward, however.

“I think our team had great energy and great focus, with all the conditions that were out there,” Sullivan said. “To come away with a win in the first game was big, but we need to focus just a little bit harder for longer periods of time and be just as aggressive in the field and on the mound as we are at the plate in the future.”