Illini softball opens fall schedule with three wins as underclassmen make debuts


Photo Courtesy of Della Perrone / Illinois Athletics

Junior Gaby Rhodes runs onto home plate during a game against Ohio State on May 8. For the first time in over a year and a half the softball team had a home game.

By Renato Arteaga, Staff Writer

The Illini softball team hosted a fall home game for the first time in nearly a year and a half. The team opened its fall season with four exhibition games at the Eichelberger Field.

The team finished with a 1-1 record after its first day of competition on Saturday. The Illini faced off against St. Mary’s of the Woods, which the Illini beat 6-1, and Western Illinois, which handed the Illini their first loss by a score of 3-1.

Head coach Tyra Perry, who is entering her sixth season, expressed how excited the team was to be back at their home field with friends and family in the stands.

Perry went on to explain how much Lila “Shorty” Eichelberger, who the field is named after, means to the team and how these fall exhibition games will help the Illini make her proud.

“I think it was fun since it was taken away from us last year because COVID protocols,” Perry said. “These fall games give us an opportunity to try different lineups and combinations, so it’s good to have that back.”

During their second day of competition on Sunday, the Illini went on a two-game winning streak against Jefferson College and Illinois Wesleyan, which they beat 11-0 and 3-1, respectively.

Perry credited her team’s offense as one of the biggest keys in the team’s blowout victory against Jefferson College.

“Our team was hitting with consistency,” Perry said. “They were consistent with their big hits and clutch hits, and our offense was clicking on all cylinders.”

Graduate student Kelsie Packard and senior Sydney Sickels had strong pitching performances with a combined shutout during the 11-0 win.

This exhibition victory against Jefferson College also showcased big performances from quite a few underclassmen on the team, such as sophomore Megan Ward and freshman Stevie Meade, who both added on a score during the bottom of the fourth to give the Illini a 7-0 lead.

Sophomore Abby Ryniec and freshman Paige Berkmeyer also added on runs during the bottom of the fifth inning to help close out this landslide win.

Freshman pitcher Lauren Wiles started the weekend off strong for the Illini during their first win of the weekend, which was also the first start of her collegiate career, against St. Mary’s of the Woods.

In their fourth and final matchup, the Illini faced off against Illinois Wesleyan behind starting sophomore pitcher Tori McQueen.

Wiles went on to give McQueen relief as the Illini underclassmen continued to provide depth for the team throughout the weekend.

Coach Perry praised Wiles for her performance and her ability to help the Illini carve out a win with the little experience she has.

“We threw Lauren into the fire,” Perry said. “We’ve been out for a year, so we had to come out with the ball rolling again, and we put it in the hands of our freshman. She showed a lot of poise and fought through some tough situations, so we’re very pleased.”

Meade and Ryniec also added on runs to help give the Illini a 3-1 advantage over Wesleyan.

The Illini’s next fall ball matchups will take place on Oct. 2 where they will be facing off against Illinois Springfield and Parkland at 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively.

Afterwards, they will be facing off against Illinois Chicago and Danville on Oct. 3 at 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively. 

The key to the Illini’s success this season is taking care of the things they can control while trying their best to not focus on the overall outcome, Perry says.

“We just talk a lot about being in the present, in the moment and not racing ahead to something that hasn’t happened,” Perry said. “We talk a lot about work ethic and pushing ourselves to be the best possible person we can be in order to be the best team we can be.”


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