Illinois softball fails to execute on hits last weekend
March 11, 2014
Though the Illinois softball team came away with a win at the end of its weekened series, the Illini struggled to capitalize on hits, leaving many runners stranded throughout the weekend at the FAU Tournament in Boca Raton, Fla.
Illinois lost twice to No. 14 South Alabama and once to Florida Atlantic before beating Hofstra.
Over the weekend, the Illini left 30 runners on base and scored only 11 runs. Their opponents did not fare much better, leaving a total of 29 runners on base but were able to score 18 runs in all. The Illini had 28 total hits over the weekend compared to their opponents’ 32.
For head coach Terri Sullivan, the win against Hofstra showed the might of the team after losing in extras to South Alabama.
“Sometimes you leave runners on, and obviously, you’re looking for that clutch hit,” Sullivan said. “And that too can get a team frustrated, just feeling that it is not your weekend to score or to win ball games.”
In its matchup against Florida Atlantic and its second against Southern Alabama, Illinois managed to leave fewer runners on base but still lost the games. Illinois also left more runners stranded than Hofstra but won the game nonetheless off an extra innings two-run homer from junior Jess Perkins.
“We were so close to winning all our games the entire weekend,” Perkins said. “So it was really nice to finish off a game with a win finally. We were getting hits, just not continuing with the plays. The bats were there, we just had to finish executing.”
Pitching takes a day to warm up
Performing strong throughout the season so far, the Illinois pitching staff struggled early on this weekend for those same results.
Entering the tournament with a combined 1.94 ERA, the Illini finished Saturday with a 4.85 ERA and allowed 18 hits.
Freshman pitcher Brandi Needham allowed two home runs in a complete game against South Alabama on Saturday. In the next game against Florida Atlantic, all three pitchers — junior Shelese Arnold, Needham and freshman Jade Vecvanags — saw the mound. Combined, they allowed eight runs off 14 hits and four walks.
By Sunday, the Illini had gotten back into its strong pitching performances and closed out the tournament with a combined 3.14 ERA. Arnold pitched the second game against South Alabama and Needham went up against Hofstra.
After innings of letting the wins go, Illinois finally got the win with Needham’s eight-inning shutout.
“I thought Shelese came out. She was really disappointed with her performance yesterday (against Florida Atlantic) and came back today,” Sullivan said. “Besides the first inning, she pitched really well against a terrific offense that South Alabama has. Same with Brandi. She wasn’t really at her best the first day but she came in today and shut them down. That shows I think how much our team is learning and growing and what it takes to succeed at this level.”
Early defensive error cost runs
After two weeks off before its tournament this weekend, Illinois used the practices leading up to focus on game type situations; however, the first day of the FAU Tournament saw the Illini make some key defensive errors that cost runs and wins.
In the bottom of the third against South Alabama on Saturday, the inning took off for the Jaguars after the Illini failed to execute a grounder to shortstop Ruby Rivera. Rivera made the play, but first baseman Remeny Perez dropped the ball, allowing the runner to safely reach the base. South Alabama was able to tie the game in the inning and later win.
Illinois got the first two outs of the third inning against Florida Atlantic, but a throwing error by sophomore Kaite Repole at third put a runner on second. The Owls then went on to score two runs and take the lead for good.
But the practices leading up to the tournament finally came in to play Sunday with key plays by Repole and Rivera. In the bottom of the eighth for the first out against Hofstra, Rivera got the tiebreak runner on her way to third.
“There were a lot of errors at the start of weekend,” Sullivan said. “I thought we responded right back and stayed composed. We came back and played aggressive and trusted the next pitch.”
Charlotte can be reached at [email protected]