Illinois softball drops close affair with ISU

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

On Tuesday night, a pitchers’ duel took place at Eichelberger Field in Champaign with the Illinois State Redbirds (25-17) stealing a 3-2 win. All five runs came via the long ball, with the ball carrying on a cool weeknight at home.

The Redbirds hosted the largest opposing team crowd of the year at Eichelberger, with 30 or so fans in red gathered along the first base line. They had a lot to cheer about at the night’s end after freshman pitcher Hannah Meshnick finished her best outing of the year.

Meshnick went the distance, holding the Illini (24-21) in check for seven innings. The Illini recorded just four hits and six baserunners on a slow day at the plate. The freshman didn’t strike many batters out and stayed true to her style on Tuesday, forcing weak contact and ground balls to get the win.

After a solo shot in the first inning, the Redbirds didn’t threaten again until the top of the fourth, when they got runners to second and third with only one out. After what appeared to be a sacrifice fly to take a two-run lead, the Illini challenged the call and won, with the umpires deciding that the runner left early for home.

A two-run homer over the right field wall from junior shortstop Megan Ward in the bottom of the fourth inning gave the Illini the lead and energized the crowd. At the time, the Illini had all of the momentum, seemingly turning the tide.

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    They would not score again, and recurring themes shone bright again. An inability to string hits together has hurt them all season and was the story against the Redbirds. Sophomore left fielder Stevie Meade and fifth-year second baseman Avery Steiner were the only other Illini to get a hit during the game.

    The Illini lead did not last long, as the Redbirds responded loudly with two solo shots in the top of the fifth. The back-to-back homers removed the fifth-year pitcher Sydney Sickels from the game, although she pitched well overall. Sophomore Lauren Wiles came on in relief and gave the Illini 2.2 strong innings, continuing her late-season revival in the circle.

    In the bottom of the seventh, the Illini brought out their rally outfits with upside-down visors, gloves on top of their heads, and several players sporting a pink hat with a neon “daddy” across the front.

    The caps had a little bit of magic in them, as the inning started with Ward punching a ball between third and short. Nothing else was working for the Illini, with the inning ending with a runner at first and no runs. This defeat puts the Illini at 2-8 in their last ten games as their struggle continues with the year coming to an end.

     

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