Illinois softball to take on in-state rival Illinois State

Illinois’ Kylie Johnson swings for the ball during its 3-0 loss against North Dakota State at Eichelberger Field on March 17. 

By Cole Henke

The Illinois softball team is taking a break from its conference schedule to play the Illinois State Redbirds at Eichelberger Field on Tuesday.

The teams will play one game rather than a multiple-game series, which is a change of pace for the Illini. According to head coach Terri Sullivan, these one-game breaks are a good way to get out of the grind of the Big Ten season.

She also stressed how important these games are. In this case, Illinois is coming off of a weekend sweep of Indiana. The midweek game against the Redbirds (16-18, 7-2 MVC) gives the Illini (11-20, 3-3 Big Ten) a chance to keep their momentum going into another Big Ten series.

“We just try to stay consistent,” Sullivan said. “While these games aren’t conference games, I make sure the players go in with the same mentality to every game. We can’t afford to treat opponents any differently.”

The two teams play a single game against each other every year. The Illini won last year after the 2013 game was canceled.

Illinois’ offense is on a hot streak right now, scoring 40 runs over the weekend to sweep the Hoosiers and the Illini garnered some awards for their efforts. Junior infielder Allie Bauch was named Big Ten Player of the Week, and freshman outfielder Carly Thomas was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week. The 22 runs the Illini scored on Sunday were a school record and the game ended in the fifth inning via the mercy rule.

Illinois State finished up a weekend sweep against Evansville, where the Redbirds scored 34 runs. While Illinois gave up 26 runs over the weekend, Illinois State only gave up 11.

Junior outfielder Kylie Johnson reinforced what Sullivan said about treating opponents the same.

“We play a long schedule,” Johnson said. “We can’t afford to treat games like they don’t matter. We didn’t have the best start to the season, so we need to really focus.”

Illinois State had a similar start to the season as Illinois — the Redbirds couldn’t record a winning weekend in their tournament season. The Redbirds have only one win against a power conference team and are 0-10 against nationally ranked teams.

The Illini have played nine games against ranked opponents and, like the Redbirds, haven’t won any.

Pitching hasn’t been a strong suit for either team. The Illini pitching staff has a collective ERA of 6.34 and the Redbirds pitching staff has a 7.11 ERA. The struggles of the Illini stem from inaccuracy with their pitches. The Illini have walked 31 more batters than they have struck out this year. The Redbirds have walked 92 batters compared to the Illini’s 136, but the Redbirds have given up 312 hits compared to the Illini’s 273.

Sullivan still trusts her pitchers and thinks the only problem is that they are not trusting their stuff.

“Our pitchers are fine,” Sullivan said. “We need to get over the hump, and we will do that by playing to our strengths.”

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