Illinois softball finishes home schedule with 9-0 win over Western Illinois

Illinois%E2%80%99+Jade+Vecvanags+throws+a+pitch+during+the+softball+game+vs.+Western+Illinois+at+Eichelberger+Field+on+Tuesday.+Vecvanags+pitched+six+shutout+innings.

Illinois’ Jade Vecvanags throws a pitch during the softball game vs. Western Illinois at Eichelberger Field on Tuesday. Vecvanags pitched six shutout innings.

By Ethan Swanson

In-state adversary Western Illinois entered its matchup with the Illinois softball team looking for a win against a Big Ten opponent for the first time since 2010.

However, in their final home game of the season, the Illini made sure no streak — winning or losing — would be broken at Eichelberger Field Tuesday night.

Illinois (25-24, 13-7 Big Ten) has now won its last four meetings with Western Illinois (16-21, 6-9 Summit League). The Illini suffered losses in their first four home games of the season, but have rallied to finish their home schedule 10-6.

“Coming into the clubhouse today, the team had their sights set on playing a quality softball game,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “It was impressive how Jade (Vecvanags) and our defense were able to just shut them down and offensively, we saw some exciting things, too.”

After a 1-2-3 top of the first for sophomore pitcher Vecvanags and the Illini defense, Illinois wasted no time securing an early lead. First baseman Alyssa Gunther was the first player of the night to cross home plate — driven in by right-fielder Nicole Evan’s 14th double of the season. A Carly Thomas sacrifice fly would round out the first-inning scoring for Illinois to make the score 2-0.

Vecvanags (18-11) dazzled in the circle. She was working on a no-hitter two outs into the fourth inning until Tierney Bottino looped a single to shallow center, giving the Leathernecks their first base-runner after contact. Tuesday’s complete-game shutout performance was Vecvanags’ second of the season.

“I just try not to overthrow and make my pitches too perfect, because I know I have my defense behind me,” Vecvanags said. “My arm is up for the challenge and I’m ready to carry this team as far as I can.”

The Illini would follow up Western Illinois’ first hit of the contest with some more of their own in the following two innings.

After third baseman Annie Fleming led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk, a two-out double shot down the third base line off Kylie Johnson’s bat brought in the Illini’s third run of the night.

In the fifth inning, Jess Perkins and Fleming would record a run, hit and RBI all by themselves, bombing a solo homerun to right and a two-run shot off the scoreboard, respectively. An errant throw by Leatherneck catcher Kelsey Marlow on a pickoff attempt at second base allowed designated runner Danielle Trezzo to score from third, giving Illinois a commanding 7-0 lead heading into the sixth.

The sixth inning would prove to be the final inning as well Tuesday, after Evans’ two-run homer, her 17th of the season, gave Illinois the final run they needed for a 9-0 mercy-rule victory.

“It felt awesome to give these seniors a win in their final game here,” Evans said. “We’re coming together so well right now and everything is working like it should. We’re definitely peaking at the right moment.”

[email protected]

@EthanSwanson88