Aztecs snap Illini softball’s 10-game streak

Despite having its 10-game winning streak snapped and not playing its most important game of the weekend, perhaps not all was lost in the Illini softball team’s rain-soaked trip to Columbia, Mo.

The inclement weather at the Children’s Hospital Invitational washed away Illinois’ much-anticipated border showdown with No. 3 Missouri, and the team fell 5-3 Sunday in the weekend finale against San Diego State, but the Illini might just have picked up the type of bump or bruise that galvanizes a team’s long-term success.

“What stood out to me most was we came back really late in the game (against San Diego State), and we got in the huddle and said, ‘If we let this deflate us, we’re not as tough as we think we are,’” senior outfielder Hope Howell said.

Down 5-1 in the top of the sixth, right fielder Hollie Pinchback connected for a double to left field to snap the Illini out of a crippling drought. Two batters later, third baseman Kelley Wedel ripped a two-run homer, cutting the lead to two and winning the praise of her teammates.

“Kelley coming back with that home run was a huge momentum changer for us,” Howell said. “It just shows us that we are a different team … We felt comfortable and we came back and rallied. We just came up short.”

The Illini threatened again in the seventh inning after Howell and Pinchback drew a pair of walks to load the bases. However, with two outs on the board, shortstop Jessica Davis fouled out on the first pitch she saw to end the game.

Nevertheless, the team took more good from the weekend than bad.

“We did pick up two good victories against Bradley and then New Mexico. In this last game we didn’t pull off the victory, but we saw some good things,” said Danielle Zymkowitz, captain, who combined with Howell to record five hits in Illinois’ 7-0 weekend-opening win against New Mexico. “Things just didn’t go our way, but it shows that we have a lot of fight when we play.”

Assistant coach Donna DiBiase stressed that the game didn’t come down to Davis’ foul out but rather the team’s abandonment from its self-administered golden rule: “We had some opportunities early on in the game … We had runners at second and third early in the game and had our three and four hitters up. We’ve talked all year about putting the ball in play and quality outs, so to strikeout at that point in time, we’ve got to move the ball and put some pressure on the defense.”

Sandwiched between the win against New Mexico and the loss to San Diego State was a 5-1 win over Bradley. In that game, pitcher Pepper Gay continued her dominance on the mound in getting her seventh win of the season. The freshman picked up seven strikeouts and allowed three hits in six innings of duty, moving her to 7-0 on the year with an ERA of 1.02.