Softball team hopes to learn from losses, will face Bradley

By Rich Mayor

The Illini softball team had a less-than-stellar weekend, but the players won’t allow it to dampen their spirits as an in-state rival awaits.

Illinois will take its battle-tested squad to Peoria, Ill., on Wednesday for a doubleheader against Bradley (11-15). The Braves, despite their poor record, are 2-0 against Big Ten opponents this season, including a 4-0 shutout of No. 14 Northwestern.

The team won’t allow itself to be fooled by records, though.

“They’re a good softball team, and they’re well-coached,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “General fans can say our record is .500, but they may not know the schedule we’re playing. Things on paper don’t matter much to us – like underdogs and favorites. You really just have to come to play.”

The Illini shutout Bradley 5-0 at Eichelberger Field when the two teams met last season, but the Braves took both games of the doubleheader in 2006 at Peoria.

To prevent another road sweep, Illinois must make some necessary adjustments.

“We want to be aggressive at the plate,” Sullivan said. “Offensively, most teams know what they can get from us, so we just have to get good cuts. Our pitchers need to throw strikes as well. Our defense is playing a little bit better game-in and game-out, so really making the opponent earn what they get is big in that regard. We expect everybody’s best, and we want to be at ours.”

After a home-opening doubleheader sweep against Eastern Illinois last Wednesday, in which Illinois (20-20, 2-4 Big Ten) seemed to be firing on all cylinders, the Illini began a difficult conference weekend with a road victory over Penn State.

But the momentum didn’t carry over in the next three games for Illinois, when it lost against the Nittany Lions and a doubleheader at No. 5 Michigan. The team lost all three games but played the Wolverines (32-4) much closer than the 5-0 score in the second game showed.

After the Michigan games, the Illini have now faced each of the top seven teams in the nation and have played 12 of the top 25 according to the USA Today/NFCA poll. Illinois has also defeated the current top team in the nation, UCLA, then-ranked No. 6 in the country by ESPN.com/USA Softball.

To get back on track, Illinois needs to learn from its losses.

“I think that we just didn’t execute certain things,” senior center fielder Sarah Bryers said. “There wasn’t one person that actually sparked something and was able to get the team going. We definitely need to work on that and have some leaders step up.”