Illini offense begins slow, ends in win over Redbirds

Serenity+Stewart+%28center%29+gets+congratulated+by+her+team+for+hitting+a+home+run+at+Eichelberger+Field+on+Wednesday.+The+Illini+beat+the+Redbirds+2-1.
Back to Article
Back to Article

Illini offense begins slow, ends in win over Redbirds

Serenity Stewart (center) gets congratulated by her team for hitting a home run at Eichelberger Field on Wednesday. The Illini beat the Redbirds 2-1.

Serenity Stewart (center) gets congratulated by her team for hitting a home run at Eichelberger Field on Wednesday. The Illini beat the Redbirds 2-1.

Mark Capapas

Serenity Stewart (center) gets congratulated by her team for hitting a home run at Eichelberger Field on Wednesday. The Illini beat the Redbirds 2-1.

Mark Capapas

Mark Capapas

Serenity Stewart (center) gets congratulated by her team for hitting a home run at Eichelberger Field on Wednesday. The Illini beat the Redbirds 2-1.

By Gabby Hajduk, Staff Writer

Coming off a series loss at Nebraska, Illinois softball took a break from Big Ten play to host Illinois State Wednesday. The Illini beat the Redbirds 2-1, improving to a 23-9 record.

“We’ve been playing tight so we’re really trying to play free and play loose,” said head coach Tyra Perry. “We know that the midweek games, especially against opponents that are in our state, they’re well-coached with a lot of great programs, so we can’t take anyone for granted. We have to respect that and we know that so we’re just working on our fight.”

A slow offensive game from both sides came down to the final inning when senior Kiana Sherlund hit a walk-off single to drive in freshman pinch-runner Hannah Sasaki for the one-run win.

“Something about this team that is one our strengths is the pressure situations,” Sherlund said. “We never make them too big and I had no doubt that if I wasn’t the one who come through for my team, the person behind me would. Our lineup is so strong it doesn’t matter who’s up; someone’s going to get the job done.”

ISU struck first in the second inning with a double to right center followed up by a double on an infield error which scored the runner, giving the Redbirds an early 1-0 lead.

While another error in the fourth inning gave ISU a baserunner, senior pitcher Taylor Edwards and the Illini defense worked to keep the Redbirds to just one hit through five innings.

“I’m proud of my team,” Perry said. “I don’t like the errors so we’re trying to work through that. We’re trying out a couple different things to try and solidify ourselves defensively.”

Illinois’ offense struggled through the first few innings, not getting on the board through four innings. The bats started off cold with a three strikeout first inning. The Illini registered five hits within the first four innings but failed to capitalize and score.

The Illini evened things up in the bottom of the fifth inning with a lead-off home run from senior Stephanie Abello. However, three straight outs prevented the Illini from earning a run, sending Edwards back into the circle to pitch her sixth inning.

Following back-to-back singles, one on an infield error, freshman Sydney Sickels was called in to replace Edwards in the sixth inning. With one out from Edwards, Sickels quickly got the Illini out of a two-runner jam with a strikeout and a ground-out to shortstop.

Another scoreless inning for the Illini brought Sickels back out in the top of the seventh. After walking the first batter, Sickels and the Illini defense held the Redbirds to set up the Illini offense to score, earning Sickels her 15th win.

“It’s a no-brainer with (Sickels),” Perry said. “She’s very easy; you call a pitch, she throws it. She’s a competitor and she makes things very simple.”

Abello started things off for the Illini in the final inning with a single up the middle. Sasaki went in to pinch run for Abello and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Freshman Avrey Steiner registered a single to left field, advancing Sasaki to third. Sherlund came up next to get the walk-off win.

Illinois will continue its homestand with a three-game series against Minnesota starting Friday evening. Minnesota (25-9) will come to Eichelberger Field on a six-game win streak, winning two straight Big Ten series against Maryland and Purdue.

“Minnesota is a really good team,” Perry said. “They’re coached really well, they have quality pitching and we are going to have to do the same thing we did today. We just have to keep playing, work hard tomorrow in practice to solidify our game plan so that we can feel comfortable this weekend.”

@gabby_h11

[email protected]