Illinois softball gets both wins in doubleheader against Wisconsin

Illinois+Jade+Vecvanags+%287%29+throws+a+pitch+during+the+softball+game+vs.+Wisconsin+at+Eichelberger+Field+on+Friday%2C+April+17.+Illinois+lost+11-7.

Illinois’ Jade Vecvanags (7) throws a pitch during the softball game vs. Wisconsin at Eichelberger Field on Friday, April 17. Illinois lost 11-7.

By Cole Henke

The Illinois softball team pulled out a tough series win against visiting Wisconsin this weekend.

The series came down to the second half of Saturday’s doubleheader, and it took a big comeback for the Illini (21-22, 10-5 Big Ten) to steal the series from the Badgers (19-24, 3-11 Big Ten).

Game one saw Wisconsin snap Illinois’ seven-game winning streak by a score of 11-7. The Illini bounced back on Saturday, winning both games 5-3 and 12-8, respectively.

“We did not play our best softball this weekend by any means,” said head coach Terri Sullivan. “But getting a series win is tough, and we played tough this weekend. We will take what we can get.”

The Illinois pitching staff had a big problem with walks in the series’ rubber match. The Badgers scored eight runs on seven hits and five of the nine baserunners for the Badgers in their high-scoring third inning reached on a walk.

In the top of the third, the Illini looked like an early-season form of themselves, when they were susceptible to about one bad inning a game — a huge reason they started the season 8-16. In the latter end of the doubleheader, the Illini did not allow the Badger outburst to shake their confidence.

Instead of folding, Illinois chipped away at the three-run deficit, and by the fifth inning had retaken the lead.

Behind a strong outing from sophomore pitcher Jade Vecvanags, the Illini held that lead for the rest of the game. Vecvanags inherited a bases-loaded, one-out jam when she entered the game in the third inning. She gave up two runs before getting out of the inning. After the third inning, Vecvanags settled in, striking out six batters in 4 2/3 innings without giving up any more runs.

The sophomore took on the brunt of the pitching this weekend. She got the decision in all three games, pitching a total of 15 2/3 innings in the series — Vecvanags’ record is now 15-9 on the season.

“Her mental toughness has grown by leaps and bounds,” Sullivan said. “She didn’t let the third inning phase her, and she came back and pitched amazing. That was something our pitchers weren’t doing back at the beginning of the season.”

The Illini offense stayed hot throughout the series, scoring 24 runs in three games. Saturday’s first game, however, broke the Illini’s 13-game streak during which at least one Illini hit a home run. The streak was one game short of the program record, set in 2007.

In Saturday’s second game, the Illini scored at least one run in every inning, only the second time that has happened all season. Vecvanags said the consistent scoring gave her the confidence she needed to settle down and shut down the Badgers.

“It is great knowing that the girls have my back,” Vecvanags said. “It was really easy for me to get into my rhythm knowing that we are going to score runs.”

The Illini are now only one game under .500 and sit at fourth place in the Big Ten.

Saturday also provided the Illini with a bigger crowd than usual, due to the World’s Largest Softball Tailgate event. This was the 12th annual tailgate, and its average attendance is just over a 1,000 people per year.

Junior second basemen Allie Bauch said the big crowd helps, but the team doesn’t pay much attention to the event.

“We really try to stay focused on the game,” Bauch said. “It is a really cool event, but we always say that it is for the fans and not for us.”

[email protected]

@cole_Henke