The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Three up, three down in first week of Illinois softball

Outfielder+Kelly+Ryono+set+to+sprint+from+the+plate+on+Mar.+29+during+a+game+against+Indiana.+%0AThe+Illini+will+be+facing+off+against+Parkland+on+Thursday.
The Daily Illini Photo File
Outfielder Kelly Ryono set to sprint from the plate on Mar. 29 during a game against Indiana. The Illini will be facing off against Parkland on Thursday.

Illinois softball kicked off its eight-game slate of fall exhibitions last Friday against Lake Land College. Two days later, the Illini were back on the field for the Illini Fall Classic, where they took both legs of a doubleheader against Wabash Valley and Kaskaskia. Through the three contests, Illinois outscored its opponents 42-6 and went 3-0. 

Originally scheduled for Thursday but pushed back due to inclement weather, Illinois’ season opener against Lake Land was not hindered by the scheduling hiccups. Hot bats combined with excellent pitching and only allowing “controllable” runs culminated in a blowout 12-2 victory for the Illini.

“Lake Land is a good team,” said head coach Tyra Perry. “They’re a junior college program, but they send players off into division one each year. We’ve had some players from their program. They are a team that will beat you if you mess around and don’t play high-quality softball.”

Fortunately, messing around and low-quality softball are not in Illinois’ DNA, as they did not slack on either end of the plate and the players were looking to score in every inning while bringing it all on the defensive end.

“I enjoyed the execution of our offense,” said Perry. “We executed signals, situational hitting. I thought we had a strong showing in that area and set the tone. On the pitching side, I thought our newcomer, Bri Bower, started us off with a strong note, Juliana Hooker came in and played a significant role and our freshman, Mallory Sluder, brought a lot to our game as well.”

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    There was no doubt on Friday, and just one inning into the Sunday slate, it was clear there would be no doubt once again. The Illini put three runs on the board in the bottom of the first before adding on three more in the second and two more in the third. Despite all of this, it was the fourth inning that was most impressive. Fifth-year outfielder Kelly Ryono started things off with a solo home run before a double and triple from sophomores Gabrielle Debevec and Alaina Miller sent in three more runs for a 12-1 advantage.

    When it was all said and done, Illinois stood victorious by a 14-2 margin. 

    The Illini have lost a fair share of their starting lineup from last year, and even before fall games started, it was clear that the veteran presence of Ryono would be extremely valuable. Just three games in, it’s somehow even more clear how important Ryono is for Illinois.

    “Business as usual (for Ryono),” said Perry. “Kelly works extremely hard and I think she’s really starting to come into her own, really figure out who she is as a player and what she can bring to the table. It’s great to see she’s always on the hunt, she’s looking for something to smash. I also think she’s starting to rub off on Megan Ward and Stevie Mead. Those guys are up there just cutting and hunting for something they can devour.”

    Celebrations were short-lived after the victory over Wabash Valley, as just 30 minutes later, the first pitch was thrown against Kaskaskia. 

    The Illini were getting on base, being patient at the plate and being aggressive base runners through the first two innings, but they came up dry in the runs department. Fortunately, stout defense and excellent pitching from junior Lauren Wiles kept the score even until the offense got going in the third.

    In an absolute disaster of an inning for Kaskaskia, the action began with senior infielder Megan Ward doubling. From there, she stole third and was eventually sent home by Ryono. Sophomore infielder Sydney Malott hit a laser into the pitcher and was able to reach second with the opponents distracted by the abnormal play. Kaskaskia then walked three straight batters to send two more runs home, loading the bases for three straight at bats before a groundout to third base ended the inning.

    Illinois refused to look back and cruised to its most explosive scoring performance of the weekend (16-2). Being held scoreless through two innings was evidently not something that held the players back from their most impressive offensive performance so far and in Perry’s book, not much changed in Illinois’ approach as the game progressed.

    “We were attacking, which is always our M.O.,” said Perry. “It was tough because I think it took a minute for the pitcher to settle in for Kaskaskia. It was kind of an interesting ball-strike ratio. But we kept attacking and we finally found our niche, started to get on base and get clutch hits with people in scoring position. As the game went on we started to settle in and find our own rhythm.”

    Illinois softball will be back in action for a similar format of games this week, featuring a game against Parkland College on Thursday night and a weekend doubleheader on Saturday. 

     

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    About the Contributor
    Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor
    My name is Conor Blount. I’m a junior in aerospace engineering with a minor in computer science. I joined The Daily Illini in the summer of 2022 as a beat writer for the sports section and am now one of three assistant sports editors. My first beat was women’s tennis before I moved to women’s basketball in the spring. I also had the pleasure of covering several former Illini at the 2023 NFL draft and NBA summer league. If you have any questions, I can be reached at the email below.