Illinois softball swept in opening Big Ten series

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

The Illini (18-12, 0-3) took a gut punch over the weekend, getting swept by the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (26-10, 3-0). Head coach Tyra Perry complimented the Scarlet Knights’ game plan following the defeat, noting the Illini have work to do after getting swept in the Big Ten for the first time since 2019.

“We are trying to find out who we are,” Perry said. “We don’t have an identity yet, you know, where we do things consistently. I also think there’s, like, expectation of this team … We don’t quite have (expectations) in the back of our minds. I think it’s in the front of our minds.”

Inconsistencies were evident throughout the weekend, with the veteran pitching staff struggling, the offense getting shutout in game two and finding themselves minus four in the error margin. Still, among all the problems leading to three losses, Perry believes there were positives to take away.

“I thought we fought today,” she said. “We didn’t quite have the results we wanted today, but I think you know you’re going to have to stick with us. The long haul is going to be good for us.”

The Illini fought back in games one and three. The problem was that they needed to fight back in the first place, trailing by four or more runs in all three games. The Scarlet Knights, who returned most of their team from last year, outplayed the Illini in almost every facet from the opening pitch on Friday.

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    Game one was a nasty affair, with only the first four innings played on Friday evening. The umpires let the chilly rain pour down for three innings before suspending the 2-2 game until Saturday. Junior shortstop Megan Ward put the Illini in front with an RBI double when the game resumed, but the Illini were outscored 23-10 the rest of the weekend.

    Game two was also an ugly affair, although the weather had nothing to do with it. Rutgers scored five runs in the opening frame and never looked back. The 8-0 win gave the Scarlet Knights the series win and all of the momentum heading into Sunday.

    They used the momentum early, jumping out to a 6-1 lead after the top half of the third inning. The Illini responded with the fight that Perry loved, with sophomore left fielder Stevie Meade getting things started.

    An RBI single from Meade brought the lead down to four as senior designated hitter Kelly Ryono stepped to the plate. The three-hole hitter clobbered the first pitch she saw off of the jumbotron in left-center field for a clutch three-run shot.

    Ryono answered the bell again in the fourth, giving the Illini the lead. The senior snuck a ball past the right side of the infield, driving in two runs, her fifth and sixth RBI on the day. The Illini had overcome the five-run deficit, but the lead would not hold. Ryono admits that the losses were disappointing but is happy the team showed some fight.

    “I think we set goals for ourselves yesterday,” she said. “One of them was to not leave as many runners on base, and we definitely accomplished that today.”

    Fortunately for the Illini, they have three midweek games before their next Big Ten series. This schedule will allow the team to continue developing and gaining experience in non-conference games, which will benefit the Illini when Big Ten action resumes.

    “You know, it sucks to lose, but I think we’re growing and learning, and I’m really excited for our next home game,” Ryono said. “We just can’t lose our fight, and I’m really, really excited to come and show out what we learned this weekend in our next few games.”

     

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