Softball resumes Big Ten play this weekend against Nebraska

Allie Bauch bats during a game against Nebraska last season at Eichelberger Field.

By Charlotte Carroll

When the Illinois softball team takes on No. 20 Nebraska at home this weekend, it will be back to Big Ten play after a quick conference break following some tough Big Ten losses.

“Sometimes you play so much Big Ten, it becomes all one thing,” infielder Allie Bauch said. “So I think we needed that break, just to regroup and bring ourselves together. And then come back and go right back at it.”

Both teams are coming off nonconference, in-state rivalries with Nebraska (24-11, 3-3) beating Creighton on Wednesday and Illinois (17-13, 1-5) defeating Illinois State on Tuesday.

The Illini are looking to keep the wins alive after snapping a four-game losing streak with Tuesday’s win. However, this weekend’s games carry a different atmosphere than most other home games.

Illinois will host its 11th annual World’s Largest Softball Tailgate on Saturday, featuring live music from Nick Lynch, a Watseka, Ill., native, who will take the stage along with his band at 11 a.m. outside Eichelberger Field. He has performed on American Idol, ABC’s Countdown Chicago 2014 and ABC’s Windy City Live.

With tailgating encouraged to start at 10 a.m, there will be kid’s activities, a vintage jersey sale and even the chance for one fan to win an authentic diamond in the “Diamond in the Rough” promotion.

The World’s Largest Tailgate, named the best single-game promotion for an Olympic sport by the Big Ten Conference in 2007, will offer plenty of fun for fans, but also a chance for the Illini to display improvements made in practice.

The team has been focusing on communication, aiming to get a good link between all players on the field. Illinois has worked a lot on the relationship between first and second base, but used Thursday’s practice to really work on communicating between all positions on the field.

“We have to work more on communicating between each pitch, saying like, ‘Hey, if there’s a popup between us — you’re going to get it or I’m going to get it,’” Bauch said. “We’ve got to get better at that. We know each other’s range, we just have to communicate it more.”

Illinois also worked on hitting in preparation for a pitcher similar to Minnesota’s, who the team faced last weekend. According to Bauch, both have a drop ball and both pitch low in the strike zone. The Illini are looking to fix the mistakes from the Minnesota matchups and translate the corrections into the Nebraska series.

“Sometimes under pressure you revert back to poor habits or sometimes you get less aggressive,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “Offensively we really haven’t done what we believe we can throughout the lineup in our first couple Big Ten series. But that’s also a credit to the pitchers we faced.”

Illinois is most concerned with playing fundamentally sound softball and avoiding the distractions that often plague home games, especially with the added hype of the tailgate this weekend.

“Everyone is zoned in,” sophomore Remeny Perez said. “Coach has really made sure that you’re zoned in every pitch, every game, every at-bat and every defensive play, even when you’re not getting a play the whole game until the bottom of the seventh. That one play you get with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, you got to be ready to make sure you make it.”

Charlotte can be reached at [email protected].