Illinois softball knocks off Illinois State with late-inning comeback


Illinois’ Jade Vecvanags fakes a swing during softball 5-4 victory against Illinois State at Eichelberger Field on Tuesday. 

By Ethan Swanson

Although the Illinois softball team didn’t break any offensive records, courtesy of some late-game heroics from Ruby Rivera, the Illini pulled off a 5-4 victory over in-state foe Illinois State on Tuesday at Eichelberger Field. Illinois scored a school-record 22 runs in Sunday’s 22-12 win against Indiana,

“We have a lot of trust in any of our players to make a big play for us,” Head coach Terri Sullivan said, “They’re working together really well, which is what to you need to see heading into April.”

Second-baseman junior Allie Bauch was the first to light up the scoreboard for Illinois (12-20, 3-3 Big Ten) with a solo home run in the bottom of the first inning off Illinois State (16-20, 7-2 MVC) freshman Sarah Finck.

The Redbirds scored the next four runs, however, all in the top of the third inning. After Illini pitcher Jade Vecvanags walked-in the tying run, a two-run double by Redbird catcher Stephanie Gallant and a sacrifice fly-ball by third-baseman Riley Strangard put Illinois State up 4-1 going into the fourth inning.

Vecvanags rebounded and held the Redbirds scoreless for the remainder of the game, finishing the game with two strikeouts, two walks and only four hits surrendered in seven innings pitched.

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    “I just had to come back into the dugout and regroup,” Vecvanags said. “I made a very minor adjustment to my mechanics, kept pushing through it and trusted that my team was going to give me the runs we needed to win.”

    In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Illini offense finally gave Vecvanags some support.

    After designated hitter Kylie Johnson reached on a fielder’s choice, and a fielding error recorded by Illinois State first-baseman Abby Turczyn brought the junior home. Shortstop sophomore Ruby Rivera followed shortly after with an RBI single, bringing the Illini within one run and ending Finck’s day at on rubber with two earned runs, three walks, and four hits in 4 1/3 innings pitched.

    After senior pitcher McKensie Vissering came on in relief for the Redbirds, Illini catcher Jess Perkins hit a sacrifice fly to center to drive in first baseman Alyssa Gunther and tie the game 4-4.

    “Our season early-on was pretty rocky,” Rivera said. “We’ve just gotten used to getting behind in the beginning of games, so we’ve gotten pretty good at coming back. When one person gets going, our offense is contagious.”

    A scoreless sixth inning for both teams brought a tie game into final inning. Vecvanags and the Illini defense stepped up to register a 1-2-3 half of the inning, bringing up the top of the order for the Illini.

    After Vissering and the Redbirds’ defense took care of Bauch and Gunther, Rivera stepped up to the plate with two outs and made it perfectly clear she only intended to play seven innings.

    With a 2-2 count, Rivera ripped a walk-off home run off of Vissering that just snuck over the left-field wall, completing the Illini comeback and securing a 5-4 win.

    “It wasn’t any hard hit, I honestly was just hoping it would go over the fence,” Rivera said.

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