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

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illinois softball takes finale, avoids series sweep

A 1-4 homestand for Illinois (16-14, 3-9) dampened much of the momentum from its first conference series win a week prior and dropped the team to tied for 12th in the Big Ten. After losing both mid-week matchups, the Illini still couldn’t find their footing over the weekend, as the Purdue Boilermakers (20-19, 7-5) took the series. 

The Illini have had reverse splits this season, falling to 2-10 at home but jumping out to an even 14-14 start away from Eichelberger Field. Their Champaign struggles showed early, as Illinois was shut out in the opener. 

Senior pitcher Tori McQueen kept the Boilermakers in check early, only allowing a walk through three innings. However, offensively, the Illini left two runners stranded in each of the first two innings, failing to provide the run support she needed. 

Only three runs passed against McQueen in complete game performance, but the Illini left nine runners on and fell 3-0. They did not have the same issue in game two, but they received a similar result. 

When the Boilermakers matched their game-one run total in the first inning, things looked meek. It was sophomore second baseman Gabrielle Debevec who briefly turned the tide in the second, lacing an RBI single to the left side. Freshman third baseman Eileen Donahue followed her cue in the next at-bat, launching her first collegiate homer to tie the game. 

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It was all Purdue from that point, outscoring the Illini 8-1 in the final five innings. So Illinois turned to the series finale with their backs against the wall, needing another strong performance from their ace. 

McQueen delivered, going the distance for the 10th time in 2024. The righty only struck out five batters but induced plenty of weak contact, and her fielders did the rest. 

“I was just working my pitches and trusting my defense,” McQueen said. “They were making plays behind me, and I knew they were going to, so I just trusted them and threw what pitches were called.”

Purdue only managed one run on seven hits while failing to reach base via the free pass. McQueen also received more run support than game one, despite it not arriving until late. 

“I thought we had a similar game,” head coach Tyra Perry said. “But this time, we came up with timely hits and timely plays.”

Debevec had one of those timely hits, once again driving in a run in the second inning. Engaged in a stalemate for the next three innings, Illinois finally broke through when sophomore infielder Sydney Malott came through in a pinch-hit appearance.

“Malott is, on paper and everything, one of our top hitters,” Perry said. “She has some of the highest RBI totals on our team, so it was a no-brainer.”

Three of the first four Illini reached in the sixth inning, loading the bases as Malott stepped in the box for her first at-bat of the day. After working a 2-2 count, she drove a ball to the right field wall. It short-hopped the fence and bounced back over the right fielder’s head, allowing all three runners to cross the plate as an emotional Malott screamed in joy toward the dugout. 

“It means a ton,” Malott said after the game. “We really were looking for at least one full game where we all came together and played together defensively and offensively … we’re trying to take that momentum into the following weeks.”

As McQueen finished the job, Illinois claimed a much-needed 4-1 victory at home. The Illini now begin an eight-game road trip spanning two weeks in four different ballparks, needing to win a lot more than they lose to meet their postseason aspirations. 



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About the Contributor
Ben Fader
Ben Fader, Sports Editor
Hello, I’m Ben! I’m a junior at Illinois and assistant sports editor at The Daily Illini. I’m majoring in journalism and minoring in communications and recreation, sport and tourism. This is my third year with The Daily Illini, and I can’t wait to produce some amazing work. Feel free to contact me at my email below with questions or concerns, or if you just want to talk sports!
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