Softball continues in-state domination against Illinois State

By Gina Jenero

Coming off of a weekend of rained-out games, the Illini had a nice opportunity to continue their winning streak against in-state rivals. Against the Illinois State University Redbirds, head coach Terri Sullivan’s Illini softball team (14-7) managed to come out on top once again in an 11-3 win.

“Historically, we really battled with Illinois State quite a bit,” Sullivan said. “But this game our offense forced the Redbirds to make (two) pitching changes.”

In the top of the third, right fielder Hope Howell’s blast to left field brought in the Orange and Blue’s first three runs of the game. Shortly after, senior designated player Katrina Ross came up big with a grand slam, making the game 7-0.

“I was impressed with how we mentally approached the game after losing games to weather. Today, several girls on our team really saw the ball well in the box and never got too anxious,” Sullivan said.

Offensively, changes in the lineup may have been exactly what the Illini needed in order to start the game off strong. Howell’s aggressiveness in the box was a result of the change in hitting order.

“I recently dropped down to the third spot in the order, but coming back into the second spot today made me realize that I had to help bring in runs from the start,” Howell said. “Whenever Danielle Zymkowitz got on base, I knew it was my job to move her along the bases.

Ross refused to focus on her individual accomplishments and instead was mostly proud of her team’s ability to string together several hits, especially after a hard week of hitting practice.

“As a team, we knew we had to prioritize and focus on hitting the most. I didn’t make any serious changes in the box, but coming off of Hope’s homerun, I was motivated to keep the inning going for our team,” Ross said.

On the defensive end, Illini pitcher Monica Perry gave up a three-run home run in the third, but did not let her guard down from then on.

Coach Sullivan was not too worried about the home run as Perry quickly came through with a strikeout to end the inning.

“Nothing changed on defense,” Sullivan said. “It was a three-run home run, and she’s the leading hitter in the Missouri conference. Monica came back with a key strikeout, which got our team pumped all over again.”

Capping the game in a quick five innings due to the run rule, the Illini could proudly place a check mark next to their goal of staying on top against in-state teams.

“We make it a big goal of ours to be very serious about taking control in the state, and that’s a big task,” Sullivan said.