Softball needs tuneups after going 3-2 at NFCA Tournament

Although the Illinois softball team strung together three wins at the NFCA Leadoff Classic, two bad losses left the Illini preaching the need for consistency for the third consecutive weekend. The Illini stumbled in their opening game against South Florida, losing 8-0 in five innings, and the final game against Boston University, losing 8-1.

“I think that the team feels that we didn’t meet our goals that we set at the beginning of the week, we wanted to go 4-1, if not 5-0,” senior Kelley Wedel said. “We’re kind of looking for that niche, we got to get some consistency in all aspects of our game.”

The Illini left Clearwater, Fla., with three victories, defeating Hofstra 2-0, Winthrop 3-2 and Massachusetts 4-2.

Showing signs of success and well-rounded play, the Illini have been unable to avoid bad losses in each weekend of the season.

“We just did not take care of business in any way in the first game of the tournament and the last game of the tournament, and South Florida and Boston did, so give credit to them,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “We didn’t score first, we didn’t hit our goals in those games. However, our team really put it together after a disappointing first loss of the tournament and played some great softball in between.”

Starting pitcher Pepper Gay tallied two wins over the weekend, including her fourth and fifth complete game wins, along with her first save of the season.

“Friday we started off kind of rough. I wasn’t hitting my spots at all, and I allowed too many batters on base,” Gay said. “And then the next couple games I felt back to my old self I was getting ahead of the batters and I was letting my defense work behind me.”

In Gay’s loss to South Florida, the Georgia native allowed seven hits and six runs in 2 2/3 innings, while the offense combined for only three hits. Gay rebounded to shut out Hofstra, allowing only one hit in seven innings. She also closed out Massachusetts, allowing just four hits and one earned run. Illinois’ other starting pitcher Jackie Guy recorded her second win of the season, defeating Winthrop.

With three wins in two days, the Illini entered Sunday with a .500 record for the first time this season. The Illini came out flat in Sunday’s game, falling to Boston 8-1 in a game that was scoreless until the fifth inning. The Illini failed to capitalize on eight hits, scoring their lone run of the game in the seventh. Guy and Gay allowed a combined eight runs with six hits in six innings.

Offensively, the Illini saw more consistency in run production, scoring 10 runs without plating more than four runs in any given game. The Illini tallied at least seven hits in three of their five games over the weekend, with 28 hits total. However, the offense was held to fewer than two runs twice, bringing the total of games with fewer than two runs to seven.

Midway through its tournament season, Illinois has shown signs of improvement. The Illini will continue to look for consistency in their last two weekends of the nonconference season before Big Ten play begins.

“Three great wins for us, it’s kind of the nature of the game right now,” Sullivan said. “You can’t get too high after a win or too low after a loss, you just have to look to play good ball.”