Illinois softball prepared for Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational

The Illinois softball team will test its wits against some of the top-ranked teams in the nation this weekend at the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational. Continuing head coach Terri Sullivan’s philosophy of playing a challenging nonconference schedule, Illinois (2-3) heads to Austin, Texas, to face Pittsburgh (0-0), No. 13 Texas (5-0) and No. 10 Tennessee (5-1) this weekend.

Coming off inconsistent play in their first weekend, the Illini’s focus is to improve play on both sides of the plate. Sullivan stressed the importance of consistency in Illinois’ first game of the tournament, against Pittsburgh, which will open its season against the Illini on Friday afternoon.

“Our first goal is the first game of the day,” Sullivan said. “Our team is trying not to focus on whose jersey is on the other side, and it’s a big goal of ours to come out to play good softball that first game, especially ending on a game we weren’t real pleased with over the weekend.”

The Illini were shut out for the first time this season last Sunday, losing 8-0 to Florida International.

“We would get that big hit and we wouldn’t have that one player get the big RBI or get that momentum rolling, and that’s where we lacked last weekend,” infielder Jessica Davis said.

The Illini left 32 runners on base in their first five games, including seven runners in scoring position against FIU.

Illinois will need to be consistent behind the plate this weekend, as it will face a Texas rotation that has yet to give up an earned run this season. Texas is led by two-time Second-Team All-American Blaire Luna, who ranked third nationally with 16 shutouts last season.

“When we go into these games we have a mindset of attacking that pitcher,” Davis said. “Basically it’s all about seeing your pitch and driving it, getting in there and taking your hacks, and not letting the big name take you down.”

On the mound, the Illini duo of Jackie Guy and Pepper Gay will look to carry the load this weekend in hopes of quieting some talented offenses.

“They did an outstanding job last weekend,” infielder Danielle Vaji said. “They’re in it to win it this year. They really are bringing everything they got to every game, so this tournament we definitely want to help them out, produce some runs for them, make their job a little easier.”

Tennessee, which led the nation in batting average last season, enters this weekend having defeated defending national champion Arizona State last weekend.

“Tennessee and Texas both have strong softball programs,” Sullivan said. “They’re balanced throughout their lineup they have good offense, defense and pitching. So you have to have the same and come out and play aggressive.”

The Illini will look to add more wins this weekend and are confident they can compete with some of the top teams in the nation.

“Our team really isn’t fazed by playing any one specific team,” Sullivan said. “Because we preach playing a great schedule to be a better team. That’s what our players come to this program to do, to play a challenging schedule and day in and day out know that they need to bring it.”