Illinois looks to regain mojo in Baylor Invitational

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photo courtesy of Illini athletics

Sophomore Danielle Davis swings during Illinois’ game against North Carolina State at Dail Softball Stadium in Clearwater, Florida. The team will travel to Waco, Texas, to compete at Baylor Invitational.

By Carson Gourdie, Staff Writer

After a subpar week, Illinois will travel to Waco, Texas, for the Baylor Invitational, competing against the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes, the Texas State Bobcats and the Baylor Bears, who the Illini plays twice. Illinois will be looking to regain some of the momenta it gained after a 4-0 start but lost after going 1-3 in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge last weekend.

“It’s going to be another tough weekend,” said Illinois head coach Tyra Perry. “Baylor, obviously, is one of the top in the nation. Our entire schedule will present different challenges all year.”

Even though the Illini received more votes than the Bears in the latest rankings, Perry had high praise for the Big 12 Conference team and the Bears, who are 8-2 on the year so far. Led by pitcher Gia Rodoni, who sports a 1.27 ERA with 27 and 2/3 innings logged, the Bears have shut down most offensives, only giving up more than four runs three times. With the Illini struggling at the plate — they only scored two runs in their first three games of the Challenge — it’s vital for them to swing the bats aggressively and going early.

“We will try to swing the bat like we did on Sunday (when they scored seven runs),” Perry said. “Friday and Saturday, we were passive, and we weren’t the weekend before.”

While the Bears’ pitching staff and record looks sparkling, it’s fair to question if the Baylor is battle-tested, as five of its wins came in the Getterman Classic against Western Illinois, Prairie View A&M and Grand Canyon, which aren’t softball powerhouses.

The other two teams, Tulsa and Texas State, have both come out of the gate strong this season, with 8-1 and 7-2 records, respectively.

Tulsa plays a similar style to Illinois with fantastic pitching, clutch hitting and close victories, which some people might call lackluster hitting. But with three pitchers currently registering an ERA of 1.85 or lower, Tulsa hasn’t been forced to play aggressively at the plate. However, Tulsa still has power on hand, with Chenise Delce leading the way with a .379 batting average and three home runs.

Texas State’s calling card is its offensive presence. Despite being held to one run twice, the team is still averaging over five runs per game, mostly on the back of ArieAnn Bell, who is currently slugging 1.000. For context, Illinois’ highest individual slugging percentage belongs to Co-Big Ten Freshman Player of the Week Delaney Rummell with .696.

While analyzing stats is important, the x-factor for Illinois is sophomore pitcher Sydney Sickels. After not allowing a single run in her first tournament, Sickels came back down to earth a little bit, giving up five earned runs in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Still, despite those results, Perry doesn’t plan on changing Sickels’ role any time soon.

“She honestly did great,” Perry said. “Against North Carolina State, she had 13 strikeouts. The hits that other teams got, those could have been prevented before. Sickels is still on point.”

The tournament starts Friday with a doubleheader against Texas State and Baylor, followed by a Saturday morning game with Tulsa before Illinois finishes with Baylor Sunday.

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