Illinois softball season ends in hard-fought battle against Nebraska

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Angel Saldivar

Senior right fielder Kelly Ryono whacked her second hit of the day to lead off the inning agianst Nebraska on Thursday. Though Illini fails to make the NCAA tournament, it was arguably one of the best two-game stretch for the Illini.

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

It was another late night for the 12-seeded Illini (29-27), as their quarterfinal game began at 8 p.m. That didn’t stop Illini fans from packing the stadium for the second night in a row, one of the best crowds of the year. They were in for a great pitching duel on Thursday, but the Illini came out on the losing side, falling 1-0 to the fourth-seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers (34-19).

The game was full of emotion and crazy antics in the dugout, something that became consistent throughout the year for the Illini. Fifth-year pitcher Addy Jarvis got the start in the circle and had one of her best starts of the year with a pumped-up defense behind her. After the second and third batters in the Cornhusker lineup manufactured a run in the first inning, Jarvis settled in, retiring 11 of the next 12 batters she faced.

Unfortunately for the Illini, senior pitcher Courtney Wallace was also on her A-game Thursday night. The Cornhuskers only used two pitchers for the most part this season, one of the smaller rotations in the conference. Wallace helped them out, going all seven innings and allowing zero runs.

The best scoring opportunity for the Illini presented itself in the fourth inning. Senior right fielder Kelly Ryono whacked her second hit of the day to lead off the inning, and freshman catcher Sydney Malott reached on an error to put first and second with one out. Unable to capitalize, the Illini didn’t get another good chance to score, as they went 1-2-3 in each of the final three innings.

However, the fun didn’t stop until the very last pitch. Fifth-year pitcher Sydney Sickels entered the game in the fifth inning and got the Illini out of a first and second jam with no outs. It ended with a double play when every girl on the field sprinted into the dugout screaming, the ball was thrown into the ground and the crowd was as loud as it had been in 2023.

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    As the game headed to the seventh inning, the Illini put on their rally hats and … more? Players sported upside down visors with sunglasses on, four gloves stacked on top of their heads, catcher’s masks with flags draped around them and others with water cups around their ears. If a viewer didn’t understand the circumstances, it quite possibly could have been one of the oddest things they’d ever seen.

    While it didn’t end the way they wanted, it was arguably the best two-game stretch for the Illini all year and they fought until the very end. The Illini always seemed to have fun and stay creative during their games, and they were true until the very end. That will do it for the 2023 softball season, as the Illini are unlikely to make the NCAA tournament.

     

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