Illini softball still looking for answers in the circle

Illinois softball head coach Terri Sullivan has relied largely on three pitchers so far this season, but none have delivered with any consistency.

Three weeks into the 2015 season, the Illinois softball team is 5-10. Though showing faint signs of success, pitching has been a major factor in Illinois’ early season struggles.

Breanna Wonderly, Jade Vecvanags and Shelese Arnold have thrown the majority of the innings for Illinois. Each has had her share of shining moments, but at the same time, each has contributed detrimental game-deciding innings.

Over its first 15 games, the trio — along with freshman Kate Giddens — allowed 85 total runs. The Illini pitchers have made a habit out of dominating one game in the circle then turning around to look like completely different players a few hours later. Arnold has been a consistent example of this.

At Mississippi State the second weekend of the season, Arnold struggled against UT-Martin on Friday, allowing five late-inning runs in the team’s loss. But the senior bounced back in her final two outings at the February Freezer, hurling back-to-back complete games to pick up her first two wins of the year.

In her second win, Arnold kept Mississippi State’s Caroline Seitz and Erika Gaul off the base paths. The two entered the game with a combined 12 extra-base hits in the first two weekends of play.

The same pattern held true this past weekend in the Illini’s trip to Houston. Arnold started off with two good outings and Illinois grabbed its only two wins of the weekend. But her later outings again proved costly for the Illini.

As one of the three seniors on the team, Arnold said her role this year has changed drastically. Because she has been around the longest, she has taken what she learned from previous classes and used it to teach her teammates how to react when games may or may not go their way. She said her success on the field has a major influence on the confidence of her younger teammates.

“My leadership has changed,” Arnold said. “My teammates like to see me up, and I don’t like to let them down. So, when I’m down, I know that I’ve got to get it together because I don’t want them doubting me.”

Sullivan added that Arnold has developed a key role on the team now that she’s a senior.

“We knew she would become a very good leader because she just has a way with her teammates.” Sullivan said. “She really understands all of them and communicates well with her teammates. She’s a competitor and wants to win and is very accountable herself as a player.”

[email protected] @MrozLauren