Softball team shocked by visiting Depaul

By Daniel Dexter

With just two outs left in the game, pitcher Brandi Needham stood in position to end the Illinois softball team’s five-game losing streak. 

Despite the hot start that gave the Illini (18-19) a 2-1 lead over DePaul (30-8) heading into the seventh inning, Needham couldn’t keep the Blue Demons’ bats at bay any longer. DePaul’s Megan Coronado ripped a double to centerfield to drive in the tying run from second. 

Then as the DePaul dugout chanted, “We’re not finished!” the Blue Demons batters used that momentum to drive in three more runs in the inning. The Illini couldn’t match their opponent’s late-game heroics and dropped their sixth straight game by a score of 5-3. 

“They were just really aggressive,” Needham said. “Hats off to them; they capitalized on the pitches that were thrown and any mistakes that we made.”

Head coach Terri Sullivan would have liked to see some of that aggression from her players, who have recently had trouble holding onto the leads they’ve built throughout games. 

“They got hits that they needed to get at the end there,” Sullivan said. “They stole one from us, and we’ll plan to have it make us better.”

The Illini matched DePaul with seven hits but failed to turn most of them into runs, leaving eight runners on base throughout the game.

Illinois did, however, have a 2-0 lead through five innings with its two runs coming in an unconventional fashion: scoring off a bases loaded walk and a wild pitch in the first and fifth, respectively. Sullivan had no problem with those two scores, but believes the team had the opportunity to produce more.

“I thought we had their backs against the wall a little bit, but they are 30-8 for a reason,” Sullivan said. “We were making them uncomfortable. We just didn’t exploit that with some clutch hits.”

Fielding was another area of concern the team had entering the game after struggling with errors against Wisconsin last weekend. Sullivan did praise her team for making “stellar defensive plays,” like diving catches and catching runners stealing, but she was also critical of the team for committing four costly errors.

DePaul scored its first run off an error at home plate that turned DePaul’s Allie Braden’s triple into a run and brought the score to 2-1. Then in the seventh inning, shortstop Ruby Rivera had a ball roll through her legs putting the tying run on base. 

“I was replaying the first hit after it went right under my legs,” Rivera said. “I thought we were going to come through at the end of the inning. But it happens.”

The Illini will return to Big Ten play this weekend when they travel to Purdue (22-20-1) for a three-game series this weekend. Sullivan believes her team can use this loss to its benefit and come out and have a successful series against the Boilermakers.

“It would have been a big win for us, but I know our team will get back,” Sullivan said. “They will be very anxious to get back out there and play aggressively. They are going to learn how to close these games out.”

Daniel can be reached at [email protected] and @ddexter23.