Illinois looks to repeat 2009 two-game sweep of Northwestern

Three runs was all that separated the two rivals in 2009. Though the Illinois softball team completed the two-game sweep of Northwestern last year, this razor-thin margin of error is the only number the team will focus on when they travel to Evanston, Ill., this weekend for a rematch with the Wildcats.

“I expect (Northwestern) to be at their best and so does our team,” head coach Terri Sullivan said after Wednesday’s game against Indiana State. “They’re awfully tough on their home field … This is the type of team that really loves that environment, and I think they’re going to be really jacked and geared up to go in there and be at their best.”

The highly touted Wildcat program has had a rough year to date, faring 16-11. However, in a display of their offensive efficiency, they are third in the Big Ten in RBIs despite hitting a pedestrian .255 as a team. The secret? Walks.

Northwestern currently has nine more walks (105) than second-place Penn State (96). Leading the charge in that department is sophomore catcher Adrienne Monka, who ranks eighth in the nation with 0.96 walks per game.

The backstop also leads Northwestern with a wopping nine home runs and is second with 24 RBIs.

To out-duel the technically sound Wildcats, sophomore Monica Perry says the No. 18 Illini will need to pay as close attention to detail as their counterparts.

“I think the focus is going to be on staying loose and focusing on every pitch and every batter, just executing our game plan … and not getting tense in any situation,” she said.

Perry figures to take the mound for Sullivan’s crew, and if Perry’s spectacular performance Wednesday against Indiana State is any indication, the Wildcats’ offensive struggles could continue.

Perry rebounded from a shaky outing against Michigan over the weekend to record six strikeouts in five innings, allowing one run in the process.

Another hot hand on the mound for the Illini is freshman Pepper Gay, who came in relief of Perry and mowed down six straight Sycamore batters to preserve the 5-1 win.

The right-hander lowered her team-leading ERA to 1.99 and collected her 53rd strikeout of the season.

Sullivan echoed Perry’s comments on the importance of technicality in the upcoming two-game series: “Both Monica and Pepper are tough to hit, tough to beat when they’re really focused on executing each pitch.

“It sounds like a simple thing, but just staying in the moment with each pitch and locating it well.”

Focus has been a point of emphasis for the entire team recently, as Sullivan commented on the need for increased controlled aggression after Wednesday’s game.

Freshman Nicole Linares, who provided a much-needed shot in the arm for the Ilini offense when she forced an error and scored a run against the Sycamores, said she agrees with Sullivan.

“We’ve definitely got to get the hits going and the game energy up higher than it was because (Northwestern is a) better team (than Indiana State),” Linares said. “We have to go all out harder than anything because they will bring it as hard as we will.”