Illini of the Week April 1: Carly Thomas

Illini+of+the+Week+April+1%3A+Carly+Thomas

By Cole Henke

Illinois softball freshman Carly Thomas exploded onto the Big Ten scene in a big way this past weekend against Indiana at Eichelberger Field.

Thomas was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week for belting in a conference-leading 13 RBIs and batting .643 with a 1.429 slugging percentage in four games.

She is the first freshman to win the award since 2012. This award may only be for a week’s performance, but Thomas has been a steady contributor to an inconsistent offense. That was Thomas’s goal when she came to Illinois — be a contributor.

“My goal when I came to Illinois was to contribute to the team,” Thomas said. “I really just want my teammates to trust me.”

Thomas’s freshman year has been all about making adjustments on and off the field. Her biggest on-field change is her stance in the batter’s box. Being a lefty, high school pitchers avoided pitching to her inside, afraid of hitting her. In college, the pitchers are more accurate, and are able to pitch her inside. This led to Thomas taking a step further away from the plate. What seems like a small change has allowed Thomas to become an immediate impact player for the Illini.

Head coach Terri Sullivan is quick to praise Thomas, saying that she is performing exactly how she and the coaching staff expected her to.

“(Thomas) hits the gaps really well. She can hit to both left-center and right-center,” Sullivan said. “She hits for both power and average, and her power normally comes from her just seeing the ball well.”

Even though her play may suggest otherwise, the transition to college softball has not been easy. Thomas, a Fontana, California, native moved far away from home to come to Illinois.

Thomas checked out other Big Ten schools, but the academic reputation of Illinois pushed her to become an Illini.

The hardest adjustment for Thomas has been being so far from home.

“I did not expect to miss my family and California as much as I do,” Thomas said. “I have a great support system here with the softball program here, though. They have made it a lot easier.”

Thomas’s dad was her biggest supporter on the softball field growing up, so it is a change of pace not having him there for every game. The team played at a tournament in Los Angeles earlier this month, and her dad was able to attend.

Her dad also made the trip out to watch the first game against Indiana on Saturday, where he got to see his daughter hit her fifth home run of the season.

Sullivan said most of Thomas’s success at the plate comes from her approach to each at bat. Thomas said she doesn’t go to the plate ready to swing for the fences. She makes sure she sees the ball well, hits it hard and puts it in play.

When Thomas sees the ball well, she produces the way she did against Indiana. Even though she wasn’t taking home run swings at the ball, Thomas hit three home runs on the weekend, including two on Sunday, one of which was a grand slam.

Thomas has been one of the team’s best offensive weapons all season, with a .291 batting average and 21 RBIs — the second-most on the team. With the Big Ten season just beginning, Thomas has accomplished her goal of getting the team to trust her.

“Look back at our lineup from the beginning of the season,” Sullivan said. “We face a lot of tough competition early in the season, but she has been in our lineup from the beginning. That shows the confidence that we have in Carly.”

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