Bradley visits Champaign, preps Illinois for Big Ten play

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

After an unplanned week off from game action, the Illini (17-9) look to take care of their final test before conference play begins. A cancellation on Saturday gave Illinois some rest over the weekend prior to its biggest week of the season so far.

The Illini have recently struggled at home, holding a meager 17-16 record over the last two seasons. After an undefeated start in 2023 following their dominant win vs. Valparaiso, the Illini want to continue their goal of improving at home this week. 

Bradley (10-17) will visit Eichelberger Field for a 5 p.m. CST first pitch in just the second Illini home game this season. While they have struggled, Bradley enters off their first series win and brings momentum into Champaign. 

There have been few bright spots for the Bradley squad, as they have lacked both offense and defense. However, there are two hitters that the Illini will need to shut down on Wednesday night. Freshman left fielder Lauren DeRolf and graduate student second basemen Grace French have been the only two consistently producing on the season. 

DeRolf holds a .374 batting average and four stolen bases. A contact hitter, the Illini will focus on getting DeRolf out early before she gets on base ahead of French. The three-hole hitter French has slugged her way to a 1.230 OPS and is getting on base over 50% of the time through 27 games. French also leads the team in home runs and RBI.

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    The duo has been good and proved themselves against a Big Ten foe in a close February affair with the Purdue Boilermakers. Accounting for four of the team’s seven runs on the day, including a solo shot from French to give Bradley the lead in the sixth, they showed they could make noise even against stiffer competition. 

    For the Illini, it comes down to scoring runs. While that may sound simple, the team averages 5.1 runs per game in wins this season and just 1.2 runs per game in losses. The inconsistency in crossing the plate has cost the Illini multiple close games on the year and needs to be fixed if they want to make a splash in the Big Ten. 

    There are few ways better to get the offense rolling right before conference play than facing two struggling mid-majors. The Illini took care of business last Wednesday, and now they must again to enter the Big Ten schedule three games ahead of where they were last year. 



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