Illinois softball looks to increase plate production heading into Texas

After struggling to score with consistency in its five games last weekend, the Illinois softball team has focused heavily on producing at the plate later this week against Tennessee and Pittsburgh in Austin, Texas. The Illini scored 13 runs in the tournament, eight of which came in Saturday’s victory against conference foe Michigan State.

“We need to be more aggressive and execute our game plan,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “At the plate, we have a plan, and we didn’t really execute the plan very well. We did have runners in scoring position in a lot of those games. We’d like to push through by being a little bit smarter at the plate and recognizing the pitch and what we need to do.”

Illinois particularly struggled with runners on base, leaving 32 runners stranded over the five games.

“We didn’t produce,” Sullivan said. “We did have the right people at the plate at some times in the right situations to get that clutch hit, and sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t.”

One bright spot over the weekend was first baseman Meredith Hackett. Serving as a threat from the middle of the lineup, Hackett totaled four hits and four RBIs, including a three-run home run.

“A lot of us were kind of being selfish at the plate,” Hackett said. “We were trying to do too much, instead of shortening up and hitting the gap or moving runners. Just doing the little things.”

Doing the little things also seems to be a focus for the Illini as they look ahead to their upcoming tournaments.

Sullivan admitted that being smart and understanding the game plan at the plate was something her team needs to work on.

“No part of our lineup did as well as we wanted to,” she said. “We have some veteran hitters at the top of the lineup that should produce and need to produce and have quality at-bats. The bottom part of our lineup needs to get on base for them — any way, any how.”

“We worked a lot on situations,” added centerfielder Brittany Sanchez. “Not necessarily getting on base for yourself, but moving those runners over. Even if you have to sacrifice and hit a ground ball to second base so that runner on third scores. That’s something that we focused on a lot.”

Sanchez started three of Illinois’ games from the leadoff spot. Although she only got two hits, Sanchez tallied three walks and managed to score four runs over the weekend.

“I knew my job was to see a lot of pitches so that everybody was able to see what the pitcher was throwing,” Sanchez said. “I made sure to get deep in the counts. It turned out I hit the ball pretty hard — it was just right at people. So the next thing to do is to find gaps.”

Although plate struggles plagued the team over the weekend, the Illini seem optimistic that their bats will come around.

“You have to have a narrow-minded focus at the plate and try to see the ball and not bring too much of an agenda,” Sullivan said. “We think we’ll do that the more we’re out there playing.”