Poor defense hurts Illinois softball in sweep at Wisconsin

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Poor defense hurts Illinois softball in sweep at Wisconsin

Illinois' Brandi Needham (8) pitches during the game against Omaha at Illinois field, on March 15, 2014. The Illini won 6-1.

Illinois' Brandi Needham (8) pitches during the game against Omaha at Illinois field, on March 15, 2014. The Illini won 6-1.

Illinois' Brandi Needham (8) pitches during the game against Omaha at Illinois field, on March 15, 2014. The Illini won 6-1.

Illinois' Brandi Needham (8) pitches during the game against Omaha at Illinois field, on March 15, 2014. The Illini won 6-1.

In a three-game sweep to Wisconsin, the Illinois softball team’s defense failed to execute, which helped extend the Illini’s losing streak to five games. Illinois traveled to Madison, Wis., looking for its first Big Ten series win, but now instead finds itself ranked 11th in conference standings.

With storms in the forecast, Illinois played a doubleheader on Friday and one game on Saturday, as opposed to the originally scheduled Sunday game.

Throughout Friday’s games, the Illini had seven errors, with a season-worst five errors in game two of the doubleheader. Illinois (18-18, 2-10 Big Ten) had no errors in Saturday’s game, but Wisconsin (22-15, 6-5) still came away with its seventh straight win against the Illinois squad in the past three seasons.

“We were horrible defensively,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “The first two games we just had so many errors. Coming into the weekend, we had about a .970 fielding percentage. And that’s outstanding in April. Wisconsin lives and dies when you make plays in the infield, and we really felt that would feed into our defense. We just didn’t perform and that’s something that we know was a short lived thing.”

Needham improves on last weekend’s performance

Following a split against No. 20 Nebraska last weekend, pitcher Brandi Needham came out this past weekend against Wisconsin, pitching Friday’s first game of the doubleheader and the series finale Saturday.

She looked to get her rhythm back and assist the Illini with a series sweep against Wisconsin.

After getting a win the first game against Nebraska, she struggled to keep that same rhythm in the second game and the Cornhuskers were able to get eight runs through only 1 2/3 innings.

To help her teammates on the field in the Wisconsin series, Needham said she focused on movements and hitting her spots. She tried to mix things up and get batters to play into ground ball situations.

In Friday’s matchup, Needham allowed three runs on 11 hits and had three walks, one intentional, with five strikeouts. She gave up three runs on seven hits and a walk with one strikeout in Saturday’s game.

“I love how she came out in the two games against Wisconsin,” Sullivan said. “She put herself in position to win both the first and third games, we just need to give her some more offensive support, which is something else we did well in that Nebraska win. The parts are there, we just have to execute and make plays. We didn’t do that in the first and really second game against Wisconsin. We did that better today (Sunday).”

Offense struggles to capitalize in later innings

The first and third games of the series had an identical score, 3-2, and a similar storyline. After closing the initial Badger’s lead from early innings, the Illini failed to get the job done in the game’s final moments.

The first game saw Illinois lose on a walk-off RBI single. In Saturday’s close loss, the Badgers put the winning run on board in the top of the sixth with the Illini failing to answer back in the seventh.

“I think we just have to come out and score right away and be a little more consistent,” catcher Jenna Mychko said. “If we do that, the game shouldn’t have ended like that. We just have to step up a little more and we’ll get it.”

Charlotte can be reached at [email protected]