Softball heads north to face DePaul

Catcher Lana Armstrong almost makes a catch in foul territory during the second game of a doubleheader against Wisconsin on Sunday in Urbana. Erica Magda

Catcher Lana Armstrong almost makes a catch in foul territory during the second game of a doubleheader against Wisconsin on Sunday in Urbana. Erica Magda

By Rich Mayor

After taking care of in-conference business this past weekend, Illinois softball travels to Chicago for a midweek matchup with a ranked in-state rival.

The Illini (27-24, 6-8 Big Ten) took three of four from Minnesota and Wisconsin at Eichelberger Field at Martin Stadium last weekend and will now venture out of the Big Ten to face DePaul (32-14, 9-5 Big East). The Blue Demons are No. 20 in the nation, a ranking that won’t shake Illinois’ confidence heading into Tuesday’s doubleheader.

“We’re really optimistic,” senior center fielder Sarah Bryers said. “Throughout the season, a couple things haven’t really gone our way, but nobody’s gotten down, and everyone comes with the same confidence every game. (This weekend) just proves just how much the team has come together.”

The Illini have won five of their last six contests, scoring a total of 46 runs in the victories.

But the hot bats of Illinois will find a great challenge awaiting them in Chicago in DePaul’s exceptional pitching.

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“We need to be confident at the plate and see the ball well,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “We have faced great pitchers from all over the country and in our conference, so we’re not going to be walking into a situation where we haven’t seen good pitching. We really just have to bear down and not guess at the plate, see the ball well and work to put a lot of pressure on their defense and their pitchers by being aggressive.”

The trio of Lindsey Dean, Becca Heteniak and Lauren Frankiewicz lead a Blue Demon team that relies on strong arms and tight defense. DePaul is third in the Big East in ERA at 1.76, and second in opposing batting average with a staggering .195 clip. The Blue Demons possess two of the top six pitchers in the Big East in Dean and Heteniak and have tallied a record of 21-1 in games the offense manages to score four or more runs.

“Right now, we’re just going to think about playing our game,” Bryers said. “If we need to make adjustments during the game, that’s what we’ll do. But right now we’re going in and hoping to swing the bats the way we have the last couple games.”

The Illini rank in the top three in 10 of the most important offensive categories in the conference, including first in runs scored, hits and home runs.

On the flip side, Illinois ranks last in opposing batting average, with opponents hitting .269, as well as runs allowed.

The doubleheader will be a classic battle of strengths, with DePaul’s lock-down defense squaring off against the Illini’s prodigious offense.

“DePaul is a very strong softball program, and we expect great competition from them,” Sullivan said.