Softball delivers, slams error-happy Panthers at home

 

 

By Rich Mayor

It was a brisk night for a home season-opening doubleheader, yet the bats of the Illini softball team were able to catch fire.

Illinois (19-17) met the Panthers of in-state rival Eastern Illinois at Eichelberger Field at Martin Stadium on Wednesday and set the tone early. They jumped all over the Panthers (10-15) in game one, building a 6-2 lead in the third inning and added seven more, including six in the mercy rule-shortened sixth inning, to take a 13-5 victory.

In game one, the Illini were paced by senior shortstop and Big Ten Player of the Week Angelena Mexicano’s four RBIs as well as senior centerfielder Sarah Bryers who knocked two home runs and drove in four RBIs. The cause was assisted by five Panthers errors. Illinois has won seven of its last eight home openers.

Mexicano said it was “amazing” to finally be home.

“Just the atmosphere with the fans, our own field, our own dirt, our own grass – it just feels so good stepping on it and actually having umpires and an opposing team to play against here,” Mexicano said. “It’s just really exciting.”

Illinois’ offense didn’t slow down in game two, despite the increasingly chilly air.

A strong performance from sophomore pitcher Vicky Brown – only one earned run surrendered – held the Panthers down as Illinois continued the seemingly endless barrage of runs. Eastern Illinois tallied five more errors as Mexicano and Ross beat the ball into submission, knocking in three runs each, including a majestic home run off the bat of Ross. This big fly was part of a 10-run fourth inning, as the Illini demolished the Panthers 14-1 in five.

Home was undoubtedly where Illinois’ heart was at this night.

“It was awesome,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “I want to thank the students – we had a great student crowd, and that’s what makes it worth it, that’s who we play for. And it wasn’t an easy night to sit in the stands, but it was great to be at home and on our field. Not a lot of people realize that we’ve been on the road since early February – playing at home on a field like this with so many great things happening around us is really exciting for the team.”

The Illini look to carry the momentum into conference play this weekend, which includes road meetings with Penn State and No. 5 Michigan.

“We really just need to bear down and focus on what we need to do,” senior third baseman Shanna Diller said. “We had a problem with defense this past weekend, so if we can make sure that all parts of our game – defense, hitting and pitching – are all the same, we’ll be fine.”