Illinois softball seeks revenge in Evanston

Junior+shortstop+Megan+Ward+swings+at+strike+two+in+the+bottom+of+the+fifth+inning+during+a+game+against+Northwestern+on+April+5.+On+Wednesday%2C+Illinois+will+face+off+against+Evanston+once+again%2C+but+this+time%2C+they+will+be+away.

Jack Larson

Junior shortstop Megan Ward swings at strike two in the bottom of the fifth inning during a game against Northwestern on April 5. On Wednesday, Illinois will face off against Evanston once again, but this time, they will be away.

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois softball (23-17, 2-8) will take on its state rival Wednesday night for the second time in eight days. This time, the teams will face off in Evanston, home of the Northwestern Wildcats (24-9, 9-1).

The first game of the season series was one to forget for the Illini, losing 12-0. The Wildcats hammered six home runs in an impressive offensive display that only lasted five innings, cut short by the mercy rule. This was nothing new for the Wildcats’ offense, which has been scorching hot lately.

After sweeping their series over the weekend, the Wildcats moved into first place in the Big Ten standings. Highlighted by multiple 20-plus run performances, they are averaging 11 runs per game over their last eight and are the team to beat in the conference.

Offensively, the Wildcats do not have a standout hitter but rather an entire dangerous lineup. Six starters are hitting .295 or better, with graduate student catcher Jordyn Rudd and senior left fielder Angela Zedak both owning an OPS over 1.000.

To stop an elite set of bats, the Illini pitching staff must be nearly perfect. Fifth-year pitcher Sydney Sickels took the loss last week but rebounded over the weekend for confidence heading into the rematch. The Illini will need their ace in the circle if they want to win big games.

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    As the Illini learned last Wednesday, pitching has also been strong for the Wildcats. The rotation has a total 2.90 ERA; it’s easy to see why they are difficult to beat when they score over six runs per game.

    Graduate student pitcher Danielle Williams got the nod in the first matchup and dominated the Illini bats. Williams has been the go-to pitcher this year for the Wildcats, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see her in the circle again, going for the sweep of Illinois. The lefty is 8-1 on the season and is now up to 101 strikeouts in 72 innings.

    Senior designated hitter Kelly Ryono brought the offense over the weekend, driving in four of the team’s six runs. Ryono bats third for a reason and has been as important as anyone else on this year’s Illini team.

    “I pride myself on being able to put my swing on the ball a lot of the time,” Ryono said. “I think that comes with being a senior and having confidence to do that. I want to be in those high-pressure situations.”

    Ryono leads the team in AVG, OPS and RBI, with nobody else particularly close in the last two statistics. While her experience has helped prepare her for this year, Ryono acknowledges that she and the team still need to improve in clutch situations.

    “One thing we’ve really been trying to focus on is when we do have runners in scoring position, capitalizing on that,” Ryono said. “Our pitchers are doing their jobs, so offensively, I just think we need to capitalize on those opportunities.”

    Following the Wednesday night matchup, the Illini will return to Champaign for an eight-game homestand. As the end of the season approaches, this benefits the Illini, who are trying to climb out of 12th place in the Big Ten.

    “Being at home, it’s such a great environment,” Ryono said. “We love playing in front of our home crowd, and we get our own music and our own walk-up songs and then we get to sleep in our beds, so I know everyone’s really excited.”

     

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