Illinois softball host midweek series before conference play resumes

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

The homestand continues for the Illini (18-12), with two non-conference opponents set to travel to Eichelberger Field this week. The Illini will matchup with the SIUE Cougars (10-18) on Tuesday at 5 p.m. CST and host a doubleheader with the Indiana State Sycamores (17-12) on Wednesday, beginning at 4 p.m. CST.

An otherwise non-competitive-looking set of games turned into a critical two days after the Illini were swept at home to open Big Ten play. Head coach Tyra Perry harped on the Illini’s need to get more experience before conference games resume.

“We need to see more pitching. We need more live action,” she said, “We’ve been doing a lot of machines and front toss and, you know, scrimmaging and playing ourselves. I think it’s going to be great to kind of play at home.”

In need of more in-game experience? Enter the Cougars and Sycamores. The Cougars have had a tumultuous season from the get-go, beginning the year 1-9. They have played .500 ball since, but they bring a four-game losing streak to Champaign on Tuesday evening.

The Cougars’ pitching staff has been solid given their record, granting coach Perry’s wish to get at-bats against decent pitching. On the other hand, hitting is not the Cougars’ forte, averaging just over three runs per game with just three hitters batting over .239.

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A 4-0 all-time record against the Cougars is on the line for the Illini in a game they should handle with ease. The Sycamores, however, will provide more of a challenge. They do not regularly visit Champaign, having only played four games against the Illini since 2016. The Illini are 3-1 during that span and will see a Sycamore squad that has already taken down multiple Power 5 opponents.

After defeating the Pitt Panthers and the Purdue Boilermakers, the Sycamores have started conference play 6-0, bringing momentum to Eichelberger for the doubleheader. A player to look out for is senior pitcher Lexi Benko. The righthander has dominated opposing lineups, posting a 1.76 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and a 2.8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Facing these above-average rotations will give the Illini what they were searching for in the midweek matchups. Now they just have to execute. Sophomore left fielder Stevie Meade, senior third baseman Delaney Rummel and senior designated hitter Kelly Ryono have been consistent producers for the Illini, but they need more if they want to compete in the Big Ten.

Wins are nice, but the Illini will use these three games to continue their growth from the weekend and get everyone more reps for the heat of the conference schedule.



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