Illinois rivals clash in Champaign for midweek contest

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

The Northwestern Wildcats (20-9, 5-1) will make the three-hour drive down to Champaign on Wednesday for a game at 6 p.m. against the Illini (22-14, 1-5). The series has tightened recently, with each school taking three games since 2020.

The Wildcats are on fire right now, having won 10 out of their last 11 games. They have defeated four ranked teams this year and have outscored Big Ten opponents 40-18 through six games. A dynamic pitching staff leads the way for the Wildcats, experienced throwers littering their rotation.

All four pitchers are upperclassmen, including two graduate students who have started in 19 of their 29 games. The staff has a combined 2.83 ERA on the season, but even more impressive is their 173 strikeouts with only 55 walks.

Allowing a limited number of free passes, the Wildcats make opposing teams earn their runs. The Illini have struggled to capitalize on offense at times this year, but they hit well over this past weekend. The Illini scored 15 runs across their Sunday doubleheader, hinting at a possible breakthrough for the offense.

The bulk of production for the Illini continues to come from their 2-3-4 hitters, which have held their spots in the lineup throughout the season. Sophomore left fielder Stevie Meade, senior designated hitter Kelly Ryono and senior third baseman Delaney Rummell lead the everyday starters in average OPS, RBI, home runs and doubles.

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    Northwestern has a similar trio in its lineup, but senior left fielder Angela Zedak is the star. Zedak has put on the best season of her career, hitting .309 with 23 RBI and six home runs in 2023.

    The rest of the Wildcats will join Zedak in making life tough for Illinois’ pitching, which has struggled to find a third pitcher of late. Sophomore pitcher Lauren Wiles and redshirt senior pitcher Addy Jarvis have been roughed up in each of their last two series, leaving room for concern should the Illini need one to enter in the late innings.

    Regardless, the Illini feel like they are about to hit their stride, with flashes shown in the six games last week. Wednesday will be the first of two games these teams will play against each other; the second will be on April 12 in Evanston.

    A series win would be massive for Illinois to get back on track, but winning at home is essential if the team wants to return to its 2022 form. Eichelberger Field will likely have a good crowd for the matchup between the two Illinois Big Ten teams, with state bragging rights on the line.

     

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