Illinois softball remains undefeated through opening tournament

By Charlotte Carroll

The Illinois softball team found different ways to win, opening its season this past weekend with five wins in the Rosemont Rumble in Rosemont, Ill. Through the weekend, the team focused on each pitch, using what it calls pitch-by-pitch concentration to secure victories in a variety of forms.

“I felt like on Friday we showed our teeth and on Saturday we showed our will,” Illinois head softball coach Terri Sullivan said.

The Illini defeated UIC 12-2 on Friday before beating Loyola with a final score of 11-1. The team had 23 runs on 26 hits for both games combined.

Saturday saw closer matchups and the first real test of the team’s preparation for tough situations.

First up was Eastern Illinois, a game that went to extra innings. Tied at two for five innings, the Illini secured a walk-off victory in the eighth after senior catcher Jenna Mychko hit a ground-rule double with the bases loaded for a final score of 4-2.

“I was just looking for a good pitch to send to the outfield,” Mychko said. “Because I knew once the ball got in the outfield, we were going to score.”

A shifting score battle came later Saturday when Illinois defeated IUPUI, 5-3. Seeing four lead changes before finally coming out on top, the Illini were backed by strong relief pitching from junior Shelese Arnold, who allowed just one hit in the final five innings.

Closing out the tournament Sunday, Illinois won its final game with 4-1 victory over Central Michigan, who were the 2013 MAC Tournament champions.

A strong presence throughout the weekend both offensively and defensively, the team’s freshmen contributed a large part to all the victories.

“It doesn’t surprise us,” Sullivan said. “We feel really good about our entire first-year class, and we’re really proud. It can be hard, but they learn from the games, and they know they have a long way to go still. But they certainly were a big part of what we did this weekend and their teammates are very excited as well.”

Nerves nonexistent, freshman shortstop Ruby Rivera went 5-for-5 in both Friday games. Freshman outfielder Nicole Evans hit two home runs during the weekend, as well.

Freshman pitcher Brandi Needham earned three victories this weekend after starting against Loyola and Central Michigan while coming into the third inning for the win against Eastern.

Facing a different pitching climate, Needham felt the nerves during warmups but put them aside after some words from catcher Mychko.

“Usually in, say, high school or travel-team softball, you can go at a batter right off the bat,” Needham said. “You can mess up and throw balls down the middle of the plate, but here you really can’t do that. Even keeping the ball in the corner, they can jack it over the fence. So you really got to make sure you’re hitting every single spot and doing what you got to do.”

Ultimately, though, the effort of the entire team is what helped the Illini carry through with their sound game plan.

“You need to know your team can win with pitching, with defense, with timely hitting and with executing an offensive strategy,” Sullivan said. “It’s the little things that help a team win and allow you to play consistent and get a lot of trust in the teammates. We stayed focused and a coach couldn’t ask for more than to be put in different scenarios.”

Charlotte can be reached at [email protected]