Softball team preparing for in-state rival Illinois State

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Rich Mayor

If the spring-like weather continues, Illinois will finally face in-state rival Illinois State on Wednesday.

The first matchup between the teams, scheduled for March 18 in Bloomington, Ill., was canceled due to inclement weather conditions. But a beautiful 70 degree forecast means the Illini (23-23, 3-7 Big Ten) will meet the Redbirds (18-15, 8-4 Missouri Valley) and continue their nine-game homestand. The game will be broadcast live from Eichelberger Field at Martin Stadium on the Big Ten Network.

“It’s great being home, just being able to play on a great field and in a great stadium,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “We have a lot of renovations going on and there’s a lot of pride from our team being in a venue like this. To be able to settle down and get a good routine at home is nice, and being here gives people a chance to come out and see us play.”

Those who come out to the 6 p.m. game will see an Illinois State team that has won seven contests in a row, including a 3-2 victory on the road over fellow Big Ten Conference member Iowa. The Redbirds have ridden this streak to second place in the MVC.

Despite being separated by 54 miles, the Illini have met Illinois State nine times since the 2003 season. ISU holds a 5-4 advantage, including a four-game win streak against Illinois.

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“It’s not so much the 5-4 advantage that gets me as the fact that we’ve had a few tough losses to them over the past couple years,” junior catcher Lana Armstrong said. “I remember a game-winning home run and some heartbreakers. But it’s just one of those games – it’s an in-state rivalry and we always want to be the best in our state.”

The Illini are 6-2 this season against teams from the prairie state, including wins over Bradley, Illinois-Chicago and Eastern Illinois.

To get back on track after a 1-3 weekend, Illinois must find a way to neutralize Amber Smith, the sweet-swinging and swift-tossing leader of the Redbirds. The junior had a no-hitter through five innings Monday against Bradley, on top of two long balls and five RBIs in the game.

She currently has 14 RBIs on the season, along with a 7-6 record and 2.19 ERA.

“Amber’s a very versatile player, and she’s been a great hitter for (ISU),” Sullivan said. “She throws more off-speed, not really hard, but she locates and does a good job of keeping the ball down. But we’re not really concerned with what Illinois State is doing, we just need to bear down on ourselves and play well. We have good respect for them and their program, and we’re both excited to get a mid-week game in because they’re in a conference race and we are too.”