Illinois softball kicks off homestand with series against Ohio State

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois softball (23-18, 2-9) is back in Champaign this weekend for a three-game series with the Ohio State Buckeyes (25-13, 6-5). An eight-game homestand is just what the doctor ordered for an Illini squad that has struggled to piece wins together this season.

The Illini have dropped five of their last six games, with inconsistencies across the board. Something new plagues the Illini in each game, whether it is allowing 10 or more runs in back-to-back games, only scoring one run in eight innings or errors leading to unearned runs. 

The most consistent part of the team right now is the pitching staff, which has only allowed three earned runs in the last four games. Fifth-year ace Sydney Sickels leads the rotation, but sophomore pitcher Lauren Wiles has recently rediscovered some of her freshman magic in the circle and has emerged as the second option.

Whoever is on the mound will need to be on their A-game against a strong Buckeye lineup that features seven starters batting north of .300. Leading the Buckeyes in nearly every hitting category is sophomore right fielder Melina Wilkison, owning a .398 avg, .758 slg% and eight home runs. 

The Buckeyes are among the Big Ten’s best offensive teams, but the pitching has sometimes been problematic. Allowing 5.6 runs per game in conference play, the Buckeyes rely on their hitting to keep them in games. While that is not the best recipe for winning a conference, the Illini have struggled to keep up in high-scoring games. 

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    The Illini have lost eight games in a row when the pitching staff allowed five or more runs, a plateau the Buckeyes hit with ease. With that, the offense will be key for the Illini in their search for a series win. 

    Head coach Tyra Perry began tinkering with the lineup this week, but the Illini only managed one run apiece in two games with the changes. Senior designated player Kelly Ryono continues to mash balls around the park, but the rest of the team has been quiet. 

    Fifth-year second baseman Avery Steiner has had trouble getting on base lately, but the Ohio native is due against her home state’s Big Ten team. Steiner was the leadoff hitter for much of the year but was moved to second and sixth in the lineup for the last two games. The veteran has experience late in the season and will be relied upon down the stretch if the Illini have postseason plans. 

    The weekend will feature the warmest weather Champaign has seen all year, with temperatures reaching 80 degrees, perfect for the first series win of the year for the Illini.

     

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