Illinois softball notches first Big Ten series win with triumph over Michigan State

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

The Illini (27-21, 6-11) didn’t let cold weather bother them over the weekend, picking up a sweep over the Michigan State Spartans (12-28, 2-15). Most importantly, the three games marked the first conference series win for the Illini, which had narrowly escaped them multiple times.

The offense stepped up when they needed to all series long, something that hadn’t happened in a while. The Illini didn’t take much time to get on the board, sporting pink uniforms for their Strikeout Cancer weekend.

Senior right fielder Kelly Ryono clobbered a home run over the centerfield fence, putting the Illini up early. The teams flirted back and forth throughout the game, with the Spartans tying it up in the fifth inning, 3-3. Fifth-year first baseman Kailee Powell broke the tie in the bottom of the inning, putting the Illini ahead for good with an RBI double.

Sophomore pitcher Lauren Wiles dealt another fantastic outing, going 6.1 innings, only allowing three runs to earn her sixth win of the season. Fifth-year pitcher Sydney Sickels finished off the final two Spartans in a much lighter weekend than usual for her.

Game two was a high-scoring affair, with the teams once again going back and forth. The Illini once again scored first, with their first two runs coming on a wild pitch and steal of home. After trading runs into the fifth, the Illini broke it open in the bottom of the inning.

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    Seven runs, highlighted by a three-run shot from Ryono, gave the Illini a 12-6 lead. With Sickels in the circle, the lead was more than safe, as the fifth-year went the final three innings, allowing only two runs.

    The victory clinched the series for the Illini and set them up for a sweep on Sunday. Entering as confident as they had been all season, the Illini struck first for the third game of the series. Freshman first baseman Sydney Malott drove a ball over the right field fence in the bottom of the first to give the Illini a 2-0 lead.

    Junior pitcher Tori McQueen had her best outing in weeks, going 4.2 innings. After allowing her second run of the day, however, she was pulled with the game tied in the fifth. Senior third baseman Delaney Rummell had her back in the bottom of the inning, though, with a two-run bomb of her own to put the Illini ahead for good.

    Wiles closed the door in the final two innings, giving the Illini their sixth Big Ten win of the year. The Illini are now back in position to make up some ground in the conference, with the five teams in front of them separated by just two wins.

    The series brought winning the Illini haven’t experienced since early in the year and could be the boost they need. With the end of the season nearing, every game matters and momentum goes a long way when searching for a groove going into the postseason.

     

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