Ilinois softball finishes strong in Texas

By Charlotte Carroll

Last weekend, Illinois failed to execute in closing out games against Tennessee and South Florida. This weekend, they returned with a goal: to make the most out of its Sunday games.

The Illini did just that.

True to the game plan, Illinois came through to close out the UTA Tournament in Arlington, Texas, with three wins and only one loss in the first game. In the process, senior Alex Booker made history, recording the program’s first ever cycle. Booker finished Sunday with five hits, four for extra bases, five RBIs and three runs scored. 

“This team has really responded any time we’ve given them a goal,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “And they’ve really taken it to heart, and they come out and produce. Sunday’s games are really all about heart. We really got into a great rhythm and got production up and down the lineup.”

Friday’s first game against Missouri-Kansas City was canceled due to travel complications and will not be rescheduled.

Illinois split a pair of games on Saturday in its tournament start with a 4-3 loss in nine innings first to Texas Tech and then a shutout 7-0 victory against Missouri-Kansas City.

In the Texas Tech loss, sophomore Allie Bauch led the Illini at the plate going 2-for-4, and also turned one of Illinois’s two double plays.

“It was kind of a little bit frustrating after that loss because it was such a tough one,” Bauch said. “We were really into the game, and we really didn’t give our best, so it was kind of a frustrating one for all of us. But the thing about softball is there is always another game. We’ll get more at bats and more chances. So it is kind of nice that happened in the first game. We really got ourselves together and came back.”

Freshman Brandi Needham pitched the opening seven innings allowing just two runs on five hits. Junior Shelese Arnold closed out the game with no earned runs, rather taking the loss due to the international tie breaker rule where beginning at the start of the eighth, the last out of the previous inning is placed on second base.

Arnold then went on to pitch against Missouri-Kansas City, holding the team hitless until the seventh inning and recorded her fourth shutout of the season. The win saw the Illini leap to life in later innings, a feat the team has struggled with in past games.

Illinois scored seven runs on 11 hits in the game, tying a school record for five doubles in one game as well as earning a pair of two-run home runs. Booker went 3-for-4.   

With games against Creighton, who last weekend upset a then-ranked No. 24 California squad, and the hometown Texas-Arlington team, Illinois went into Sunday mentally prepping themselves to close out the tournament strong.

The offense from Saturday carried over, and Illinois defeated Creighton 9-1 with Booker recording the first cycle in Illinois history. 

“I’m not going to lie, I kind of knew it was possible in that last at bat,” Booker said. “But I was just trying to hit the ball square and hit the ball well.”

The winning continued with Illinois beating Texas-Arlington 4-2. After Texas-Arlington took the lead first, Illinois came back with a strong fifth inning scoring four runs after freshman Ruby Rivera drove the tying run home. With the bases loaded, Booker then hit a two-run double for the Illini to take the lead for good.

Arnold started the game with freshman Jade Vecvanags coming into the third. Needham then came in to close the game with a perfect seventh inning to record Illinois’s first save of the season.

Charlotte can be reached at [email protected]