Illinois softball’s defense overcome fielding struggles

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Illinois’ Allie Bauch (21) goes to ground in an attempt to catch a short throw during the game against Omaha, on March 15, 2014.

By Daniel Dexter

After struggling with it in recent games, the Illinois softball team (19-21, 3-12 Big Ten) focused on fielding at practice in order to avoid committing errors. The hard work paid off, as the Illini defense didn’t record a single error during its weekend series against Purdue (24-21-1, 11-4).

The team committed seven errors in its series against Wisconsin the previous weekend, and another four in its loss to DePaul last Wednesday.

Head coach Terri Sullivan was not accustomed to seeing the team commit so many errors, and she is confident the team won’t experience similar issues again moving forward.

“We have a very solid defense,” Sullivan said. “It was uncharacteristic of us, those few games where we did have those errors. We had a chance to get back out there, and we knew what we were capable of doing.”

Illini close out one-run game

Another issue the Illini have been dealing with in recent games is their ability to close out games with tight scores.

The Illini had the lead going into the late innings against Wisconsin and DePaul in the past week, but they couldn’t hold on and ended up losing. The team also wasn’t able to generate enough runs to get past Purdue’s one-run lead in the second game over the weekend.

In the third game, Illinois demonstrated it is capable of holding onto the lead, as it held off the Boilermakers in the late innings to grab a 3-2 victory in the series finale.

“We just had to focus throughout the final innings especially,” Kylie Johnson said. “We kept chipping away. Even though we didn’t score after we got the three runs, we were still very solid with our defense and putting the ball in play. We were a little bit tougher mentally today than the DePaul game.”

The Illini face Northwestern in midweek doubleheader

The softball team won’t have much time to rest before taking the field again against Northwestern (27-11, 9-6) at home on Tuesday.

The team will be looking to build some momentum going into the Big Ten tournament, after finishing the Purdue series with a win.

The Wildcats are coming off of a three-game sweep of Indiana at home, but the Illini are eager to play more games after ending their eight-game losing streak against Purdue in the series finale.

“It was a must-win,” Sullivan said. “They had to get one to get back on track, and I know they will be looking forward challenging week ahead with great opportunity to build momentum.”

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