Illinois softball swept in three games at Minnesota

With a runner on first, Minnesota’s Sara Groenewegan hit a Brandi Needham pitch over the fence to give the Golden Gophers a three-run lead over Illinois in the bottom of the first Friday. 

Minnesota would add on two more runs in the frame, and three more at the end of the first game of a three-game series. The home run would foreshadow the Illinois softball team’s weekend in St. Paul, Minn., as it lost all three games. 

“We didn’t really have an answer offensively or defensively,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “We just didn’t get any key plays at the right time offensively and defensively, and Minnesota took advantage of that.”

Illinois (16-13) fell behind early in Friday’s game when Needham gave up four runs on four hits, including two home runs, in just 1/3 of an inning. Freshman reliever Jade Vecvangs gave up four more runs the rest of the way, as the Illini pitching staff surrendered five home runs in the game.

The Illini could not mount a comeback and lost 8-3, only scoring three runs on seven hits. The early deficit proved to be too much, as Minnesota was aggressive and took advantage of Needham’s pitches over the plate.

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    “I just had an off day,” said Needham, who is 11-6 after the weekend. “I didn’t feel like myself warming up, and I thought that I could fight through it, but that didn’t work for me.”

    The Illinois pitching staff did not fair much better in the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday, as junior pitcher Shelese Arnold only lasted 2/3 innings. Although Arnold only gave up one hit, she allowed three walks and threw four wild pitches. An Illini error led to four unearned runs.

    Vecvangs came in relief again and allowed only three hits, but two were home runs, allowing the Golden Gophers to put up four runs.

    Even though Illinois matched Minnesota with four hits, the team failed to drive in runners in scoring position, leaving seven on base, and lost 8-0.

    “We just never got that hit,” said senior Alex Booker, who led the team with five hits over the weekend. “It would’ve taken that one hit to have that domino effect and bring us back into that game.”

    In the second game, Needham responded well, as she only allowed one hit, a home run, through the first three innings. The Illini failed to take advantage and Needham surrendered six runs in the final two innings, leading to a 7-0 loss, which completed the sweep for the Golden Gophers.

    The Illini only managed one hit and failed to score freshman Nicole Evans in the top of the fifth, who was stranded on third. What doomed the Illini this weekend were their silent bats.

    “We weren’t seeing (pitches) and we weren’t really adjusting,” sophomore Allie Bauch said. “We failed miserably, actually, to adjusting to the pitches and knowing where to take it, which is ultimately what hurt us.”

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