Offensive inconsistency continues for Illini softball

Despite pulling out a victory with a walk-off single from first baseman Meredith Hackett against Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Illinois softball team’s offensive inconsistencies have continued into its second week of play.

In their three games over the weekend, the Illini scored nine runs, seven of which came in their Friday night loss to No. 10 Tennessee. In their other two games, both against Pittsburgh, the Illini managed just 10 hits.

Illinois scored a run in each game against Pittsburgh, both coming in the seventh inning. Jessica Davis tied the game at a run apiece Friday with an RBI single, a game that the Illini would ultimately lose. Hackett’s game-winner Sunday proved to be the only run of the game.

“We haven’t had great offensive performances, but we know we’re going to get hot,” head coach Terri Sullivan said after Friday’s loss. “We did get a really timely hit from Jessica Davis, we expect her to do things like that for us.”

Last weekend’s Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational was eerily similar to the Illini’s performance at the FIU Combat Classic two weeks ago. The offense was stagnant for much of the tournament and then exploded with a barrage of runs in one game. On Feb. 11, the Illini scored eight runs against Michigan State to grab a victory on a weekend in which they only managed to score 13 total runs.

In Austin, Texas, this past weekend, the bottom half of Illinois’ lineup struggled immensely. Hitters in the five through nine spots in the lineup combined for a total of four hits in 43 at-bats over the three games, going hitless in the two contests against Pittsburgh.

“As a senior, I know my job is to produce for our team,” Hackett said. “I trust everybody in our lineup, and if I can get the job done, that’s great. But I have trust in my teammates as well.”

Hackett certainly did get the job done Sunday with her walk-off single. She leads the team with a .400 average (8-for-20), two home runs and six RBIs.

Despite the offensive inconsistency, the performance of the Illini pitchers should not be overlooked. Although giving up 10 runs to a highly touted Tennessee offense, pitchers Pepper Gay and Jackie Guy held Pittsburgh to just two runs and seven hits in both games combined.

“It’s stressful when (the offense) struggles, but I knew that my job was to hold the other team scoreless,” Gay said. “It was just a matter of time until we got one across.”

Gay pitched all seven innings of Sunday’s game and has a 2-1 record on the season with a 1.38 ERA.

“We needed Pepper to be on and really take charge and she did just that,” Sullivan said. “We never really got the offense going, but we kept feeling that we were going to push one across. She knew she needed to be a leader on the mound and focus on her pitching.”

With two weekends of play behind them, the Illini are confident they will become more consistent at the plate.

“We believe in our entire lineup, we really do,” Sullivan said. “Everyone has the ability to hit a ball out of the park. We just need to put it all together.”