Illinois softballs drops second Big Ten series

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Kat Souleles

Sophomore outfielder Stevie Meade rounds second during the game against Indiana State on Wednesday. During their series at Wisconsin this weekend, Illinois won only the second game, losing the series overall.

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois’ (22-14, 1-5) rough patch continued in Madison, Wisconsin this weekend, dropping their second straight Big Ten series to open conference play. A hot Wisconsin Badgers (17-10, 4-2) team was too much to handle, taking two of the three games.

A 0-3 start in the Big Ten was surprising for the Illini, who finished third in the conference a year ago. Getting back on track against the Badgers wasn’t going to be easy, and the Badgers made it clear in game one.

The Illini got off to a blazing start Friday night, with the first three batters reaching base. The first two were knocked in by senior designated hitter Kelly Ryono’s double, giving the Illini an early lead. Over the final six innings, the Illini managed just two hits and zero runs, while the Badgers scored six to take a 1-0 series lead.

Poor weather conditions on Saturday pushed game two to Sunday, setting up a doubleheader to decide the three-game set. The Badgers scored the first three runs in the second matchup, putting the Illini on the ropes again.

Senior third baseman Delaney Rummel broke things open in the fourth, doubling to right-center field to bring home two. One inning later, fifth-year first baseman Kailee Powell drilled a solo shot to level the score at three.

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    Powell wasn’t finished, putting Illinois on top in the sixth with an RBI groundout. The Illini added a pair of insurance runs to pad their lead in the victorious effort. The comeback fueled by the veteran Powell marked the Illini’s first conference win in 2023.

    “I went up to Avery and told myself, ‘I’m just going to swing. Good things happen when I swing the bat,'” said Powell. “So just full-heartedly going up there and swinging really hard.”

    Powell’s home run was her first of the season, and the fifth-year couldn’t have chosen a better time to let loose. The first baseman acknowledged the struggle getting wins in conference play thus far but knows they’ve been working hard for this first one.

    “It’s mainly on the mental side,” she said, “We’ve never had this kind of adversity to face since the beginning of the year, and we truly believe that there’s going to be some good that comes out of it.”

    With the win under their belts, the Illini were back in action 30 minutes later for the rubber match. Ryono blasted a solo shot to left in the first inning, continuing the momentum from the previous game. Unfortunately for the Illini, the team that scored first lost every game.

    The Badgers sprinted out to a 9-1 lead in the second behind three home runs. The Illini attempted their second comeback in as many games, bringing the tying run 120 feet away in the seventh. They ultimately came up short, losing 10-9.

    The Illini have work to do, now sitting at 1-5 in conference play. The 2022 squad lost only seven Big Ten games all season, making this start unexpected for a group that returned most of their starters.

    It doesn’t get any easier for the Illini, who will host Illinois rival and top-20 team Northwestern Wildcats (20-9, 5-1) for their midweek on Wednesday.

     

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