Perry turns around Illinois softball in first season

There was plenty of uncertainty for the Illinois softball team entering the season.

For the first time in the history of the program, the team had a new coach. Illinois had been under the guidance of Terri Sullivan since the first year of the program in 2000. However, her successor, Tyra Perry, was more than prepared to take over at the helm.

Perry was fresh off winning the MAC Conference Championship at Ball State and proceeded to bring her winning culture to Champaign.

The Illini have won 31 of their 50 games as of May 3, their best winning percentage since 2010. Inside conference play, it hasn’t been as easy for Illinois, but the team has recovered to .500. They now sit at 10-10 in the Big Ten with one series left on the horizon at Penn State.

At one point the Illini were 4-9 in conference play, but a late surge put them at even.

“This is just what we needed,” senior Allie Bauch said. “We’re staying on the upswing with perfect timing at the end of the year. It gets us ready to go into the postseason.”

The turning point for Illinois was, without a doubt, the emergence of junior pitcher Breanna Wonderly.

Wonderly was the number-two pitcher coming into the year, behind fellow junior Jade Vecvanags, but she started eight straight contests for the Illini, leading them to a 6-2 record over the period. During her streak she has sported a 1.40 ERA

“Wonderly is really coming of age and starting to come into her own,” Perry said. “She understands how to actually command the plate and how to throw to different batters. She’s ebbing and flowing with all the different challenges that come about over the course of a game.”

The uncertainty for Illinois this season has been at the plate, where despite the high batting average, the team has had lapses in run production.

Leading the Illini offense are the three and four-hole hitters Annie Fleming and Nicole Evans, who are leading the team in batting average and home runs, respectively. Fleming is hitting at a .347 clip on the year, while Evans has 11 home runs on the season.

Lately the offense has not been thriving, but rather taking advantage of the situations given. Singles, walks and reaching on errors have become common of late in the scorebook, but senior Kylie Johnson said it’s the team’s approach at the plate that has led to the offense.

“We’ve gotten really aggressive over the last couple weeks,” Fleming said. “That has really helped us hit our stride in the last couple weeks.”

Trending in the right direction, Illinois is now shifting its eyes toward the Big Ten tournament, with a chance to break into the top-five before the tournament.

“It’s a big deal for us to get back to five hundred,” Johnson said. “It’s nice to get a win we’re supposed to get and really just focus on getting every win we can at this point.”

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