Illinois softball struggled from the circle over the weekend

Illinois’ Alex Booker swings at a pitch against Nebraska on March 15.  

By Daniel Dexter

After tossing a solid first game, the Illinois pitching staff had trouble against Nebraska’s batters.

Junior Shelese Arnold saw a lot more playing time this weekend, as she was the only pitcher to throw in all three games. She got the save in the first game, but four illegal pitch calls derailed her start in the second game,and she was then pulled in the third inning after giving up four runs on four hits.

Freshman Brandi Needham started the first and third games for the Illini. She held Nebraska’s batters at bay in the first game, but lost her rhythm in the third game when she allowed eight runs through 1 2/3 innings.

Head coach Terri Sullivan praised the Cornhuskers’ hitters after the third game, and was proud of her team for fighting through adversity.

“(Needham) just didn’t throw her pitches well and wasn’t trusting them,” Sullivan said. “So much of pitching is rhythm and so much of hitting is timing. The  pitchers are looking to upset that timing.”

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Hitting shined in lone victory of the weekend  

The Illini put on a strong hitting performance against Nebraska in their first game, which led to the upset of the No. 20 Huskers.

The team produced four-run innings in the third and sixth. The team’s 10 hits were two less than Nebraska, but Illinois capitalized on its hits with nine runs batted in, while Nebraska only had four.

Left fielder Alex Booker started the scoring off with a solo home run in the first inning.

“We always have the same game plan,” Booker said. “It’s nice to see us stick to it regardless of what the scoreboard says or what the other team does. We just want to play our ball and get our runs.”

Softball draws record attendance

The softball team’s doubleheader on Saturday drew 1,289 fans to Eichelberger Field, which is the second-largest number of fans in the ballpark’s history.

Saturday was a special occasion for the softball team, as it was also the day of its annual World’s Largest Softball Tailgate.

Head coach Terri Sullivan said she didn’t want the players to get distracted by the large crowd, but the atmosphere certainly added to the team’s 11-4 victory over Nebraska in the weekend opener.

“I thought it was a great environment all day,” Sullivan said. “There is the sixth man in basketball, but for us as well, you can really feed off that energy and Orange and Blue in the stands.”

Daniel can be reached at [email protected] and