Softball ready to exact revenge on ISU

It may have just been a meaningless fall-season game when the Illinois State softball team topped Illinois behind a six-run seventh-inning rally. But when the Illini welcome the Redbirds to Eichelberger Field for their home opener Wednesday, they will remember the defeat well.

On Oct. 4, the Illini had built a 5-0 lead over the Redbirds through six innings behind lights-out pitching from freshman Pepper Gay before senior pitcher Christine Christopoulos was summoned for relief. Christopoulos, who led Illinois in saves in 2008, gave up six runs in the seventh inning as the Illini fell to the Redbirds, 6-5, in their final game of the fall season.

That loss in Normal left a taste in Illinois’ mouth that it won’t soon forget.

“Right when we lost, you should have seen their crowd,” All-American second basemen Danielle Zymkowitz said. “Everyone on their team was screaming like they won the World Series.”

Since the heartbreaking loss to Illinois State, the Illini have had five long months to remember how it felt to see their victory slip away.

“It has just been eating at us the entire time,” Zymkowitz said. “We still had that built up. Every fall practice all we could think about was our last loss — especially to lose to Illinois State.”

Associate head coach Donna DiBiase encouraged the team to never forget that feeling of defeat.

“I was just talking to (the team) about the feeling they had when they saw Illinois State celebrate in the fall,” DiBiase said. “That is enough reminder, in my eyes, to say, ‘Hey, we have to bring our best game.’”

This spring season, however, is different for No. 21 Illinois, which at 16-2 enters Wednesday’s contest off to the best start in school history and is hungrier than ever to get its revenge on Illinois State (10-9).

Sophomore third baseman Kelley Wedel is excited to show the home crowd what the Illini have been doing during the first 18 road games of the spring season.

“Our whole team is excited just to play on our home field,” Wedel said. “I think it’s really good for our school and our community too because they haven’t seen us play and we are having a really good season.”

Zymkowitz seconded the notion of bringing the team’s success back to Eichelberger Field.

“We’ve been winning on the road, so we are just ready to live it up on our own field,” Zymkowitz said. “Especially against Illinois State, they all want to play on our field because we are the University of Illinois.”

DiBiase might have summed up the goal for the Illini best.

“We want to defend our home and own the state of Illinois,” she said.