Softball hopes to outhit SIU

 

 

By Rich Mayor

Southern Illinois’ softball team has hit 31 home runs on the season, just nine more than Illini senior shortstop Angelena Mexicano, who leads the nation with 22 long balls. As the Big Ten regular season comes to a close this weekend, Mexicano has four more games to ensure her spot on the national leaderboard, and Illinois has one more opportunity to get any remaining kinks out of its armor.

The Illini (29-28, 8-10 Big Ten) return to Eichelberger Field at Martin Stadium after a six-game stretch on the road to play a doubleheader against in-state rival Southern Illinois on Wednesday. Illinois was 2-4 on the road trip, with wins against Big Ten foes Indiana and Purdue.

The Salukis (26-22, 12-8 MVC) drive into Champaign at a respectable third in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Illini have had success against the MVC this year, posting a 3-0 mark with two victories over Bradley and another against second-place Illinois State.

“(Southern Illinois is) always well-coached and very fundamentally sound with their short game,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “They execute their bunting well, and they have pitchers that throw strikes and don’t really beat themselves. They’re defensively a well-balanced team too.”

Southern Illinois has made opposing defenses work to slow their offensive. They rank second in the MVC in batting average at a .269 clip, and have scored the third most runs.

The Salukis have seven players with 10 RBIs or more, including their best hitter, senior third baseman Lauren Haas. Haas is sixth in the MVC with a .364 average, including six long balls and 33 RBIs. Her 33 RBIs are also good for fourth in the conference.

Their steadiness doesn’t end on the offensive side of the ball, though, as the Salukis rank third in the MVC in ERA, at 2.79.

“We’re taking everything game by game now,” Sullivan said. “Our focus is really ‘win our next game, win our next game.’ It’s a big challenge, just as all our midweek opponents are. We’re fortunate in that regard, to have great softball in the area. We want to play good softball basically and have a well-balanced game. That’s where the preparation is.”

The Illini will play their remaining four games of the regular season at home, including the doubleheader against the Salukis and a pair of games against Iowa.

“I think (Wednesday) night can give us a lot of momentum,” senior center fielder Sarah Bryers said. “We’re definitely looking for two wins out of tomorrow night, and then we plan on just taking that into the weekend, playing steady defense and keep on doing what we’ve been doing on offense.”