Illinois softball drops 2 of 3 against Purdue

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Shelese Arnold pitches the ball during the game against Nebraska on April 6. She got the win in one of this weekend’s games against Purdue. 

Coming into Sunday’s game against Purdue, the Illinois softball team had plenty it wanted to forget.

The team was in a bad position heading into the series finale after being blown out by the Boilermakers (24-21-1, 11-4 Big Ten) in the series opener, followed by a one-run loss in the second game. The Illini (19-21, 3-12) didn’t have time to dwell on the losses, as they were back on the field the next day for the final game of the series with hopes of getting better production from both their offense and defense. And that is exactly what they got on Sunday as the Illini held on to defeat the Boilermakers, 3-2.

“We just wanted to come out really aggressively, just work on our game plan to score runs,” right fielder Kylie Johnson said. “We focused on putting together a full game.”

The team wasn’t able to get a full game in the series opener. Freshman Brandi Needham started the game in the circle, but was pulled in favor of junior Shelese Arnold in the second inning after allowing eight runs on eight hits. Arnold’s luck wasn’t much better in the third; she gave up three runs on six hits to start the inning. Down 11-0, freshman Jade Vecvanags came in and didn’t allow any more hits, but the Illini offense couldn’t score any runs to keep the game alive.

The Illini offense only produced four hits on the day and weren’t able to generate any runs. The game was called on a slaughter rule after the top of the fifth inning, with a final score of 11-0.

“You better forget a game like that pretty fast,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “It might have carried over from a really tough DePaul loss we had just two days before. There is no time to feel sorry for yourself, and you just want to get out there and play again.”

Needham and Arnold demonstrated their ability to bounce back in the second and third game, respectively. Needham got the start again on Saturday and pitched a complete game against the Boilermakers. She only allowed one run on five hits, but that one run ended up being the difference.

The Illinois batters still weren’t able to get it going in the second game. The team got just three hits on a day when its defense was, for the most part, at its best.

Sullivan was disappointed in the way the team performed offensively in the first two games, especially because they had so much success at the plate earlier in the season. She was happy to see the offense catch up with the defense in the final game.

“We just have not been doing too much at the plate after being on a role for the greater part of the season,” Sullivan said. “Scoring early was really big for our team. We just had some better at-bats from everybody.”

In the final game, it was the Illini who were able to get the early lead coming off four hits with two-outs in the top of the second. Johnson had the last single of the second inning that gave the Illini a 3-0 lead. The sophomore led Illinois in hits on the day, going 3-for-4, while the team produced eight hits.

“I needed to work on seeing the ball better because that is something I think I have had trouble with,” Johnson said. “I just had to focus on what I do, which is the small ball, and I think that worked out for me today.”

The three-run second inning was enough for the Illini to get the win as Arnold limited Purdue to two runs the rest of the game, giving the Illini a 3-2 victory.

Arnold got the win after struggling in recent weeks with her pitching. She had little trouble on Sunday, as she pitched a complete game and helped the Illini snap an eight-game losing streak.

“The coaches and (catcher Jenna Mychko) did a really good job keeping me relaxed,” Arnold said. “In the last couple of games, I have been overthrowing and not trusting the pitch. (Sunday), I was very relaxed out there with our defense, because I know my team has my back.”

Johnson and her teammates hope Sunday’s win can help build some momentum for the Illinois squad as it heads back home for a double header against Northwestern on Tuesday.

“We are pretty excited, because at this point, we are trying to get any momentum we can going into the Big Ten tournament,” Johnson said. “We know we can play good softball. Being able to pick up a win going into the Northwestern series, it’s a good feeling for us.”

Daniel can be reached at [email protected] and @ddexter23.