Illinois season off to a hot start after a 4-1 opening weekend in Puerto Rico


Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Nicole Evans hits a solo home run to center field at Eichelberger Field on April 2. She opened the tournament this past weekend by hitting another home run. The Illini came home from Puerto Rico with a 4-1 record.

By Tatiania Perry , Staff writer

Illinois softball senior Nicole Evans took a deep breath, looked at her bat and made an “X” in the dirt by home plate.

She has perfected her at-bat routine and said it helps her to focus and calm down.

Evans was first to bat, leading off in the team’s Puerto Rico Division I tournament.

After doing her normal routine, with the thought of hitting a grounder down the middle in her head, she swung and hit a home run instead.

Illinois scored six runs in its Opening Day win against North Carolina and 10 later that day against Georgia Tech.

Illinois finished the weekend 4-1, with four straight wins to start off the weekend.

The Illini had a total of 17 hits against the Yellow Jackets, scoring in every inning except the second, and limited its opponent to seven hits and one error.

Junior Annie Fleming crossed the plate for the first run as Evans stole second in the first inning.

“The girls have been working very hard since we came back in January and before then,” head coach Tyra Perry said. “They have all been working on their hitting, making sure their fundamentals were down and things of that nature.”

The Illini then took on the same two teams the next day with similar results.

Illinois got three-straight hits from Evans and seniors Alyssa Gunther and Fleming to start the game against the Tar Heels.

Freshman Veronica Ruelius added an RBI single in the second, followed by a Fleming home run. A two-run double from sophomore Kiana Sherlund in the third inning pushed the score to 11-0. Fleming collected another RBI double in the fourth, before sophomore Stephanie Abello’s second homer of the season made the final score 13-0.

“The bats were hot and stayed hot,” Perry said.

Junior Kate Giddens threw a hitless inning to close out the victory in the fifth frame; the Tar Heels had three hits the entire game.

Later that day, a rematch with Georgia Tech proved to be a tougher game than Friday’s match.

In the second inning, Georgia Tech’s Jessica Kowalewicz knocked a two-run home run to centerfield to put Illinois behind early, and the Illini trailed for the first four innings.

In the fourth inning, Abello singled in Evans, who led off the inning with a double.

In the fifth, Fleming gave the Illini the lead for good with her second home run of the season – a three-run shot to right center field for the 4-2 lead.

In the final day of the tournament, Illinois faced California.

The Illini started off with a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but the Bears scored nine runs in the fifth inning to take a 9-1 lead.

The Illini tried to make a comeback in the seventh inning with three runs, but it wasn’t enough, and they recorded their first loss of the season, 9-5, ending their Puerto Rico weekend with a 4-1 record.

However, Evans said she was happy with the weekend.

“It was so exciting especially as a senior to see everyone come out and play as especially as great as they did,” Evans said. “I felt like a proud mom.”

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