Illinois hit the road for West Coast Classic

By Carson Gourdie, Staff Writer

Illinois looks to move on from mixed results at the Baylor Invitational, where the team finished 2-2, and turn its focus to the Judi Garman Classic, where the Illini will be taking on five different teams in three days.

On the campus of Cal State Fullerton, located in the northern part of Orange County, California, Illinois starts off with a double header against Cal Poly and Brigham Young University on Thursday followed by another double header on Friday against Colorado State and Fresno State before finishing up with one game Saturday against the host of the tournament, Cal State Fullerton.

At the Baylor Invitational, similar problems occurred for the Illini as their bats went cold for the majority of the weekend, minimizing the impact of performances from the pitching staff. Despite starting to finally show some offensive fight in the finale of the Invitational, where they scored four runs against the Baylor Bears, the Illini need more consistency if they don’t want to rely on their pitching staff to throw a shutout.

Giving head coach Tyra Perry’s current method of managing her pitching staff, sophomores Sidney Sickels and Addy Jarvis should expect to carry most of the load during the classic. However, given the number of games in just three days and the sheer amount of innings the two have logged – 72 out of the 80 innings played so far this year – the bullpen will most likely start to get a little work this weekend. But, who out of the bullpen will get the call is iffy, as neither of the options have had a signature performance yet, with the lowest ERA between the three at 4.67. As of now, freshman Taylor Murray is the front runner for the relief role, and she’ll have to prove her worth against these west coast teams who all have records about .500.

While all five of the Illini’s opponents are playing are playing winning softball, there are several teams who seem to prevent a bigger challenge than others, especially BYU, Cal Poly, and Fresno State.

The BYU Cougars are firing on all cylinders right now after going 4-1 in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, outscoring their opponents 26-5 in victories. Led by the bats, the Cougars have two separate players who have shown home run capabilities McFarla Jensen and Hunter Ava leading the way with three each.

Cal Poly, on the other hand, have been winning as of late due to fantastic pitching performances from their ace Krystyna Allman, who’s pitched over 60% of the team’s total innings. While it’s nice to be able to rely on a pitcher, it could also be dangerous to put all the eggs in one basket. But Illinois plays Cal Poly in the opener of the Classic, so facing her seems like a realistic conclusion.

While BYU and Cal Poly have put together fine starts to the season, the Fresno State Bulldogs have won 10 out of their last 11 game, going 13-3 overall. While the Bulldogs haven’t defeated powerhouses – the only power conference teams they’ve defeated so far are Cal and Ohio State – their margin of scores in victories is wide, and with a team batting average .293, every hitter is the lineup is capable or pushing pitchers to the limit and extending the inning.

This weekend gives the Illini the chance to turn around their average play with games against dominant teams that are still beatable on paper. But while it’s early in the season, and it’s reasonable to expect the pitchers to outperform the hitters, the current rate isn’t sustainable. If the Illini can’t develop more aggressive at-bats, the season could be over before Big Ten play even starts.