Bats need to heat up in Illini softball’s first weekend at home

Illinois softball hopes its bats will heat up when it concludes nonconference play at the Fighting Illini Classic this weekend.

“This weekend is a final tune-up,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “We want to put all the pieces together consistently heading into this weekend.”

Although the Illini faced strong pitching in last weekend’s tournament, they are not using that as an excuse for the lack of hitting. The team struggled to get runners on base and bring them home once they got there. The Illini also struggled to get the hits needed to put the team on top during a close game.

For this reason, this week’s practices had heavy emphasis on hitting. Batters have concentrated on going after the first-pitch fastballs, using the two-strike approach and hitting the ball no matter where it is pitched. Coaches have also yelled out different scenarios during batting practice so that each batter can think about what the approach will be heading into at-bat.

Every player also wore green shirts during practice to represent their “green and growing” mentality, which means growing in all three phases of the game as the season progresses.

The Illini were able to make improvements on the offensive side when they practiced outdoors at Eichelberger Field on Tuesday for the first time this season. The team has practiced at the Irwin Indoor Facility this season due to the cold weather.

“It was like we were caged animals and we were trapped,” sophomore Allie Bauch said. “The moment we got outside, we exploded with our hitting and hit the balls out of the park.”

Practicing outdoors is much different than indoors. Batters see where the ball goes when it is hit and how far it goes, which they can’t do indoors. There is also a difference on grounders for hitting and fielding on the dirt versus on the turf of Irwin. Most importantly, outdoors is the closest thing the team has to replicating a game-type situation, which helps players get a feel for the field.

Eichelberger Field will host its first weekend of competition when it hosts the Fighting Illini Classic. North Dakota State, Saint Louis, Omaha and Western Michigan will all compete in the tournament against the Illini.

The Illini will then begin Big Ten play next weekend against Iowa. The team is using this weekend as one final chance to make the proper adjustments needed before it starts facing Big Ten teams. It is also an opportunity to add on more wins to the team’s 12-6 record.  

Sullivan hopes these adjustments are made this weekend because when Big Ten play begins, the competitiveness will be on a higher level.

“We need to get better at the things we’ve been struggling with this weekend,” Sullivan said. “Everybody should be at their best at this point of the season.”

Michal can be reached at [email protected] and @bennythebull94.