Illinois softball splits mid-week series with in-state rival Northwestern

By Ethan Swanson

Illinois softball pitcher Jade Vecvanags’ hot streak and the Illini’s win streak came to an end in their first game of a doubleheader at Northwestern.

Despite losing the first game 12-4 the red-hot right-hander and the Illinois offense bounced back to claim the second matchup of the day 9-8, splitting the series in Evanston, Illinois, to remain at fourth in the conference standings.

Entering the mid-week matchup with Northwestern (22-18, 10-6 Big Ten), Illinois (22-23, 11-6 Big Ten) had an opportunity to move up and share third place in the conference with Nebraska while finally getting over the .500 mark for the first time this season.

In just the first inning of the doubleheader, it became evident that the Illini were not going to earn an overall winning record against the Wildcats.

After the front of the Illinois lineup went down in order to begin the outing, Vecvanags walked four batters, allowing Northwestern to take a 1-0 lead without even recording a hit.

After a scoreless second inning by both teams, senior catcher Jess Perkins gave the Illini their first and only lead of the game with a three-run home run in the top of the third.

The Wildcats answered with their first hit of the day in the bottom of the third — a solo home run by junior Andrea Filler to make it 3-2 and kick off a nightmare of a half-inning for Illinois.

Northwestern would tack on eight more runs in the third, resulting from two walked-in runs, a two-run error, a wild pitch and three-run homer from Sammy Nettling.

Vecvanags was yanked in the midst of the disaster inning, finishing the game with eight walks and four earned runs on just two hits.

“The weather could have played a factor, but Jade isn’t the type to make excuses,” Head Coach Terri Sullivan said. “It was just a day where it took her awhile to get dialed in. She’s been our leader in the circle all year, but sometimes there just comes a bad outing.”

Northwestern added two more runs in the fourth inning off senior pitcher Shelese Arnold. A sacrifice fly by Perkins in the top of the fifth would provide the Illini’s only other runs of the day — they dropped the first game in just five innings due to the mercy rule.

In the evening matchup of the doubleheader, it was Illinois that got out to an early lead. Sullivan’s team put up five runs in the top of the first with RBIs from infielders Ruby Rivera and Annie Fleming.

Vecvanags had a much easier time finding the strike zone in her second outing. In the first three innings, the sophomore only allowed three runs to keep the Wildcats at bay.

Both offenses lit up the scoreboard in the fourth inning, ending up tied at seven after Northwestern’s Anna Edwards hit a two-run shot out of the park and Andrea DiPrima followed with an RBI double.

In the fifth, Sullivan made the gutsiest call of the day, pulling her ace in Vecvanags and giving the nod to freshman pitcher Kate Giddens.

In return, Giddens made her coach look like a genius. She allowed one run in the final three innings and protected the late lead acquired by the Illini after an error on Northwestern’s first baseman scored two runs in the six inning.

The Illini comes home to Eichelberger Field for a three-game series this weekend against Purdue.

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