No. 3 Illinois softball set to face No. 6 Ohio State in quarterfinals of Big Ten tournament

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Sidney Malone

Senior infielder Avery Steiner runs the bases during the game against Penn State on Saturday. The Illini are set to plan to against Ohio State for the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Following a 15-7 conference regular season, No. 3 seed Illinois prepares to face No. 6 Ohio State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Championships on Thursday in East Lansing, Mich.

The No. 3 seed is the second-highest ranking in program history, and a win at the Big Ten Championships this year would be a first for Illinois softball.

While the team has high standards for the tournament, it is coming off a series loss to No. 10 Indiana, who has already been knocked out of the Big Ten Championships by No. 7 Penn State on Wednesday.

However, although the Illini are coming into a match against the Buckeyes on a loss, there is a reason they are favored over the Buckeyes. 

The Buckeyes are 13-9 in conference play, which means that they are ready to put up a fight. The two teams never came head to head this season, but in some of their overlapping matchups, the Illini prevail. 

No. 1 Northwestern came to Eichelberger Field in mid-April for a doubleheader against Illinois, where the teams split the matches. Northwestern won the first game 3-0 and was then mercy-ruled 8-0 in five innings later that evening. 

When the Wildcats went to Columbus, Ohio in April to face the Buckeyes, Northwestern swept the three game series, winning 12-3 in six innings, 9-8 and 7-1. Illinois’ ability to hang in there with the very best is showcased by this matchup, while Ohio State has played consistently in a tier below this season despite the impressive record.

In order for Illinois to come out on top, they’ll need some of their top performers from the regular season to continue playing a huge role in the postseason.

Senior Avrey Steiner earned first team All-Big Ten honors this week following a regular season performance for the ages. Steiner ended the regular season with 73 hits, 20 RBI and a .390 BA. Her 73 hits ranks first in the Big Ten overall. The Illini need her firepower on offense this weekend if they hope to go far.

Additionally, on the defensive side of things, senior pitcher Sidney Sickels has been firing on all cylinders all season long. The senior has pitched over 134 innings, 181 strikeouts and ends the season with a 1.98 ERA. She is just the second Illini of all time to surpass 500 strikeouts in her career. Sickels earned second team All-Big Ten honors earlier this week as well. 

If the Illini win their bout against the Buckeyes, they will face the winner of No. 7 Penn State and No. 2 Nebraska on Friday in the semifinals. Then, If the Illini make the finals, they will likely face regular season victors, No. 1 Northwestern.

Action in East Lansing begins on Thursday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. for Illinois. If they move on, they will play on Friday at 1 p.m., and if they make the championship, the Illini play on Saturday at noon.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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