Illinois softball goes 4-1 at LSU Tiger Classic, picks up ranked win in first games of season

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Eliana Chandra

Kelly Ryono prepares for an incoming pitch during Illinois’ game against Purdue on April 16. The Illini went 4-1 in their opening weekend of the 2022 season, and Ryono has a team-best .615 batting average through five games.

By Nick Kane, Staff Writer

Illinois started the season off incredibly strong by turning some heads in the LSU Tiger Classic. On the road and having five games in three days, the Illini had some quality wins against some well-respected programs thanks to incredible pitching and timely hitting. 

The Illini started the season Friday against Central Arkansas and won in dominant fashion. The Illini put up nine runs and did not allow any. Even though the Illini put up a nine-spot, the story of the day was the immaculate pitching the Illini had in this game.

As expected, head coach Tyra Perry handed the ball to the ace of the staff, senior Sydney Sickels, who did not disappoint. She pitched five innings, striking out five and giving up zero runs. Junior Morgan Scivally took care of business by getting the last six outs with no issues.

Before the big five-run fourth, the Illini put up two in the first courtesy of graduate student Bella Loya driving in a run. Meade also scored on the throw to second.

After two quiet innings, the Illinois offense exploded. Freshman Paige Berkmeyer got her first career collegiate RBI with a sacrifice fly. With two outs, senior Avrey Steiner walked to bring in another run and then Meade, the very next batter, cleared the bases with a double. 

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    The Illini scored two more in the seventh with back-to-back doubles from Ryono and Powell. 

    Later that day, Illinois faced the host of this tournament, the No. 14 Louisiana State Tigers. LSU got the scoring started in the third by putting up three runs on Illini freshman pitcher Lauren Wiles, who was pitching in her first college game. A crucial Illinois error is what helped the Tigers jump to this lead. 

    The next inning, Ryono drove in Loya with a base hit. Wiles got back in her groove and had a pretty successful debut. Illinois was able to cut the deficit to one after a junior Delaney Rummell RBI single, but LSU got some insurance courtesy of a wild pitch, which marked the second time the Tigers scored off of an Illini mistake.

    While only getting six hits off of Tiger pitcher Ali Kilponen, committing an error and a wild pitch, the Illini still showed that they can compete with the top teams. Luckily, this would not be the last time these two teams faced off this weekend. 

    The next morning, Illinois found itself in a matchup with South Alabama. Although Illinois was not able to get the bats going as much as they would have wanted, it was still enough to give them a 3-2 win, most notably because of the masterful job by Wiles, who went right back into it by going all seven innings.

    Ryono stayed hot and contributed to the offense by collecting two hits and a RBI. Redshirt junior Danielle Davis followed Ryono’s RBI in the second inning with one of her own off a double. 

    South Alabama tied it in the fourth courtesy of a triple and a single that both brought in runs. 

    The Illini responded immediately in the fifth when Steiner brought in sophomore Megan Ward with a single. Wiles pitched three scoreless innings to finish the game and move Illinois’ record to 2-1. 

    Immediately after that game, Illinois had a rematch with Central Arkansas and won in a completely different fashion from its 9-0 victory on Friday.

    Although Illinois’ offensive performance was polar opposite to Friday’s performance, the pitching dominated once again and continued to carry the Illini. The Bears got a 2-0 lead and held it for the majority of the game, but sophomore Tori McQueen still pitched fantastic, allowing just four hits and one unearned run and consistently pitched to contact and limited the walks.

    She did not get the win, but Illinois would not have won without her efforts. 

    The winning pitcher, graduate student Kelsie Packard, came in relief and struck out three while not giving up any hits and only allowed one baserunner via walk. 

    In the seventh, Loya continued to find a way to get on base by drawing a walk to se up the game-winning run to come to the plate. Senior Kailee Powell crushed the first Illinois homer of the season over the left-center field fence to give the Illini a 2-1 the walk-off win.

    In the last game of the tournament, Illinois had a rematch with LSU. Sickels started the game for Illinois, and the Tigers gave the ball to Ali Kilponen, who was 2-0 coming into this game with one of those wins coming against the Illini. Sickels went four innings while not walking any batters. Wiles came in relief and pitched four innings and got the win. 

    Ryono stayed hot by having a stellar day, going 3-4 on the day, while Loya, Rummell, redshirt sophomore Jaelyn Vickery and Ward drove in runs.

    In extra innings, the Illini’s bats came to life. Meade and Powell got on base in the eighth with no outs. LSU’s shortstop committed an error, which scored Meade. Powell then scored on a passed ball, and the Illini extended their lead to 5-2 via a Vickery RBI groundout.

    Wiles got in a bit of a jam when she walked two batters with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, but she was able to get the last batter to fly out.

    After an impressive tournament, sitting at 4-1, Illinois will head to Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the Razorback Classic. The Illini are scheduled to face Wichita State and Arkansas on Friday, Western Illinois and Longwood on Saturday and will wrap up the weekend with a second game against Arkansas on Sunday afternoon.

     

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