Illinois softball looks to extend hot stretch into Big Ten play

Illinois+Leigh+Farina+%2823%29+hits+the+ball+during+the+game+against+Northwestern+at+Eichelberger+Field+on+Wednesday%2C+Mar.+28%2C+2018.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Leigh Farina (23) hits the ball during the game against Northwestern at Eichelberger Field on Wednesday, Mar. 28, 2018.

By Brian Binz, Staff Writer

After a rocky 3-6 start, the Illinois softball team has hit its stride just in time for the Big Ten season.

The Illini’s rally began after winning the Coach B Classic at Southern Illinois University, and the team has now won 13 of their last 17 games, including a series win over Purdue.

While head coach Tyra Perry is happy with the recent improvement, she believes it could have come earlier.

“I would’ve liked it a lot faster,” Perry said. “I did not like how we opened up.”

A lot of question marks surrounded this team going into the season given that the Illini lost their top hitter and pitcher on last year’s team, who won 39 games.  However, the team has been able to make up for its absence so far. 

One helpful factor is the development of the starting rotation led by transfer Emily Oestreich, who has settled in as the ace of the staff.

“It’s a huge change, going from JUCO to D1,” Oestreich said. “But two or three games in, I realized I am good enough to be here.”

Oestreich has won 11 of her first 15 starts at Illinois, allowing a team-low .250 batting average to go along with a team-high 72 strikeouts in 92 innings.

The Illini bullpen will be without regular contributor Taylor Edwards, who will miss some time due to an accident in the Purdue game resulting in a black eye. Perry said there is currently no timetable for Edwards’ return, but they hope to see her back “soon.”

While pitching and defense make up half the game,  the Illini haven’t been lacking on the other side of the ball either.

Illinois has driven in double-digit runs in four of its last five games, including a 24-run doubleheader against Purdue.

“We tend not to do a lot of looking,” Perry said. “Having positive outcomes… even if you hit the ball hard and someone catches it, then that’s still a quality at-bat.”

Senior Leigh Farina feels like that aggression is contagious.

“We are definitely a team that mimics one another, so when everyone’s hitting and passing the bat, usually it boosts everyone else to do the same,” Farina said.

The Illini will take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in their next Big Ten series. The Gophers are just 3-3 in their last six games, with a series loss against Northwestern in their most recent outing.

Despite their lackluster record recently, Perry was wary, saying that every team will try to play its best game against the Illini.

“We have to make sure we are strong and steady, and we don’t get rattled by anything,” Perry said.