Illinois softball sweeps Maryland for third-straight series win


Illinois’ Jade Veccanags pitches the ball during the softball game v. Indiana State at Eichelberger Field on Wednesday. Illinois won 5-3.

By Ethan Swanson

The Illinois softball team left for College Park, Maryland, on Thursday tied for sixth place in the Big Ten with the Terrapins, both sporting a 5-4 record in conference play. However, after the weekend series concluded Sunday, the Illini cemented their place in the upper half of the Big Ten standing.

“We wanted to welcome them to the Big Ten and show them what it’s like to face heightened competition,” said freshman outfielder Carly Thomas.

In its first-ever trip to Maryland, and just the fifth time ever facing the East Coast opponent, Illinois (18-21, 8-4) swept the three-game road series against the Terrapins (23-19, 5-7), giving the Illini their third-straight Big Ten series win.

Illinois’ Sunday victory was the team’s ninth win in their last 10 games. 

Friday’s matchup had the makings of a pitcher’s duel through the first four innings — Thomas’ solo home run in the top of the second inning was the only offensive production by either team. The Illini offense finally got on track in the fifth inning, scoring six runs in the final three innings. Thomas once again led the charge: She went 3-for-4 and finished the game just a triple shy of the cycle to help the Illini secure a 7-3 victory.

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Illini pitcher Jade Vecvanags put together a strong outing in the circle Friday, allowing just two earned runs on eight hits and three walks in a complete game. The performance was good enough for her eighth win in her last nine games pitched.

“Jade has taken most of the pitching burden all season, but she continues to look strong,” said head coach Terri Sullivan. “She’s the type of player that wants the ball in her hands no matter what the situation.”

Saturday’s back-and-forth battle featured clutch performances from both familiar and relatively unseen Illini.

Sophomore outfielder Nicole Evans added to the powerful hitting display she’s put on all season, going 3-for-5 with two home runs and five RBIs. But a Corey Schwartz single took a bad hop off sophomore shortstop Ruby Rivera in the second inning, sending her to the bench for the first time in her career. Freshman Leigh Farina came off the bench to finish the game and turned out to be the X-factor for the Illini, going 2-for-4 with two runs scored and the game-tying RBI in the sixth inning.

After tying the game at seven, Illinois never looked back and clinched the series with a 14-8 victory.

“It was the best team-win we’ve had this season,” Evans said. “We’re a complete team. Our chemistry is at an all-time high.”

On Sunday, the Illini’s early offensive burst was enough to hold off the Terrapins for the series swept.

The first four batters in the Illinois lineup registered a hit in the first inning, leading to four runs and a Maryland pitching change. Thomas’ first-inning RBI double tied the Illini record (six) for most doubles in conference play. Senior catcher Jess Perkins lit up the scoreboard once more for Illinois with a solo shot to right-center, putting the Illini up 5-1 after three innings.

Vecvanags held off a late Terrapin surge to give Illinois the 5-4 win and the series sweep.

“Having team players like this is a coach’s dream,” Sullivan said. “They stayed committed for the whole game, every game, and when you have first and second-year players having performances like this, that tells you the direction of our program.”

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