Sickels throws no-hitter, Illinois softball goes 2-3 at Razorback Invitational

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Eliana Chandra

Pitcher Sydney Sickels winds up to deliver a pitch during Illinois’ game against Purdue on April 16 in Champaign. Sickels recorded the second no-hitter of her career on Saturday against Western Illinois, and the Illini beat the No. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks on Sunday.

By Nick Kane, Staff Writer

Illinois went 2-3 this weekend to bring their record to 6-4 on the year. The Illini were inconsistent offensively and defensively on the weekend and did not get as carried by their pitching staff as they did last weekend at the LSU Tiger Classic. Besides the no-hitter from senior Sydney Sickels, the Illini gave up at least five runs in all of the other games. 

The Illini started things off against the No. 25 Wichita State Shockers, in which they fell to a final score of 8-3. Graduate student Kelsie Packard was given the ball in the opener and struggled with her command. Packard went 3 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs, striking out three and walking four. Junior Morgan Scivally came in after and went 1 2/3 innings and allowed four runs and struck out a batter. Sophomore Tori McQueen racked up five strikeouts but gave up two runs. 

The Illini actually had a 2-0 lead courtesy of a freshman Stevie Meade sacrifice fly as well as an RBI groundout that brought in senior Avrey Steiner. The Shockers put up eight unanswered runs, and Illinois was only able to add one more run. Packard got the loss, and Wichita State’s Alison Cooper was credited with the win. 

Later that day, Illinois faced No. 10 Arkansas. Sickels struck out seven Razorbacks, but the Illini still fell short.

Arkansas jumped out to an early lead, and Illinois was never quite able to bounce back. Outside of junior Delaney Rummell’s second home run of the day, a junior Kelly Ryono RBI and a two-hit night for Steiner, the offense was quite inconsistent. 

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Head coach Tyler Perry thought it was a big problem this weekend for her team. 

“At times we were taking pitches off that were leading to bad results,” Perry said. “The inconsistencies throughout the weekend led to a few more losses than we should have.”

The Illini went into Saturday evening hungry for a win and something to cheer for and the ace of the staff, Sickels, gave them that and then some.

She did this by absolutely carving through the Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks en route to her second career no-hitter, in what would have been a perfect game if it was not for a defensive error in the bottom of the seventh with one out.

Sickels pitched one of the most dominant games that we will see all year in college softball. Sickels struck out 16 Leatherneck batters, which included seven in a row at one point. The mark of 16 strikeouts also is the most strikeouts in a single game in Illinois history, breaking her previous school record of 13 that she set twice before.

“The focus just felt different this game compared to others,” Sickels said.

Seeing her throw a no-hitter already, Perry was surprisingly not surprised when Sickels threw her second no-hitter after recording her first as a junior last season, while she said she could “100%” see her achieving the feat again.

“She is one of the hardest workers on the team,” Perry said. “She is very focused, very driven and just a good person. Good things happen to good people.”

Sickels was the star of the show, but Illinois came to play offensively. Meade collected three runs batted in and a home run, redshirt sophomore Jaelyn Vickery hit a two-run home run and sophomore Megan Ward also collected an RBI in the eventual 7-0 victory. 

Sickels went right back at it in a complete game loss versus Longwood. She gave up nine hits but recorded 11 strikeouts. Illinois battled throughout the game and even tied it late, but it was not enough to get the victory as Illinois ended up falling to Longwood in a close 5-3 battle. 

After splitting the Saturday doubleheader, Illinois was given a rematch against the Razorbacks in the tournament finale. The Illini got their revenge, pulling off the 8-6 upset via a late rally.

McQueen got the start for the Illini, going four innings while registering a career-high 10 strikeouts. After Packard went one inning and allowed three runs, Sickels picked up the win with two scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh.

Vickery recorded a two-run home run in the third inning, but Illinois entered the top of the sixth trailing 6-2, but the Illini offense jumped to life. Steiner drove in two runs on a double before graduate student Bella Loya tied the game with a two-run double of her own, tying the contest at 6-6.

Rummell led off the top of the seventh inning and give the Illini the lead with a solo shot to left-center field, and Steiner drove in an insurance run on a two-out double, her third RBI of the game .

Solid pitching and explosive and clutch offense led to the 8-6 Illinois win against Arkansas, the program’s first win over a top-10 program since the Illini defeated No. 6 Minnesota in 2017. 

The now 6-4 Illini will travel to Louisville, Kentucky, on March 5, and they will compete in the Red and Black Challenge against Hofstra, Western Michigan and Louisville.

 

@NickKane__

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