Illinois softball visits Michigan in must-win series

Illinois+softball+huddles+during+a+game+against+Northwestern+on+Wednesday.+This+weekend%2C+the+Illini+will+travel+to+Michigan+for+a+series+against+the+Wolverines.

Jack Larson

Illinois softball huddles during a game against Northwestern on Wednesday. This weekend, the Illini will travel to Michigan for a series against the Wolverines.

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

The time is now for the Illini (22–15, 1–6), as they desperately need conference wins down the stretch. The Michigan Wolverines (17–14, 3–3) are the host this weekend, sporting the worst record the Illini have faced in the Big Ten so far.

Coming into the season with big expectations, the Illini have struggled lately. With 18 games left to play, the Illini have won only six of their last 14 games, putting them in danger of missing the postseason. The good news going forward? Their prior three opponents rank in the top four of the Big Ten.

The Wolverines are the first of multiple easier series approaching, making it crucial for the Illini to rediscover their winning ways. During their rough stretch, the Illini have struggled to hit and pitch, but the Wolverines have also been inconsistent.

Sophomore pitcher Lauren Derkowski is about all the Wolverines have in terms of pitching — the Illinois native boasts a 1.85 earned run average and 1.05 walks and hits per inning. The righthander has pitched 24 more innings than anyone else in the rotation and will likely pitch often this weekend.

The Illini have faced their fair share of aces this year, most recently on Wednesday against the Northwestern Wildcats (21–9,6–1). It was an ugly one-hit performance, but the Wildcats ace had solid pitchers behind her, Derkowski doesn’t.

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    Scoring first will be important for the Illini, who have trailed by three or more runs in all of their previous four games. If they can get Derkowski out of the game early, they should pull out a couple of wins. Scoring first will also provide run support to an Illini pitching staff that has faltered of late.

    The Illini have not had a shutdown pitcher all season and have suffered greatly in Big Ten play. The rotation allows over eight runs per game in the conference, which has hurt the team big time.

    The Illini will also need to step up offensively, as production has been inconsistent all around. Only two hitters in the lineup are hitting above .300, down from five when conference play began. The Illini are confident they are on the verge of breaking out, but it must come sooner rather than later.

    The Wolverines have only played three home games this season, leading to full crowds in Ann Arbor with a blanket giveaway and dollar day. All the more reason for the Illini to show out on the road and pick up a long-awaited series win.

     

    @benfader7

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