Illinois softball hosts Michigan State for Strikeout Cancer weekend

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois softball’s (24-21, 3-11) weekend series against Michigan State (12-25, 2-12) will be an interesting matchup for a number of reasons, starting with the coaches. When Spartan head coach Sharonda McDonald-Kelley lines up against Illini Tyra Perry on Friday night, it will be the first faceoff between Black female coaches in Big Ten history.

Both coaches have set a standard in the conference, taking teams to the NCAA tournament and paving the way for more Black coaches to follow. Perry has been involved in several significant coaching battles throughout the year, including facing her sister in the opening weekend.

McDonald-Kelley is in her first year as the coach in East Lansing, and it has been rough to say the least. The rebuilding Spartans have been one of the league’s worst teams hitting and pitching and sit in last place.

Senior outfielder Jessica Mabrey has been consistent in an unproductive lineup, one of two everyday starters batting over .300. Adding five home runs and a .985 OPS to the stat sheet, Mabrey will be the Spartan to watch for Illini pitchers.

The Spartan rotation has an ERA of 4.93, and nobody has been able to shut opposing lineups down. An Illini lineup that has struggled lately will have an opportunity to get back in the flow, facing the worst rotation they’ve seen in conference play.

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    With hitting struggles lately, the Illini have switched up their lineup multiple times, to no avail. The only production in the lineup has come from three players in recent games, making it hard to put runs on the board. Someone outside of sophomore left fielder Stevie Meade, junior shortstop Megan Ward and senior designated hitter Kelly Ryono has to get going, or the Illini will never get out of this slump.

    Despite their losses, the Illini have mostly stayed positive, especially in the dugout. Their dancing and cheers do not go unnoticed as they remain locked in. With the Spartans in town, the weekend poses an opportunity for their first conference series win of the year and to defend home field for their Strikeout Cancer series.

    On Friday, the Illini will sport pink uniforms, showing their support for breast cancer. Members of the program have been or are currently being affected by cancer in their lives, making it especially meaningful to show support and represent others this weekend.