Hackett continues to carry the Illini offense

Entering the weekend, the Illinois softball team knew its offense would be tested facing one of the best pitchers in the Big Ten, Minnesota’s Sara Moulton.

Moulton, a sophomore, is first or second in nearly every pitching statistic and entered the weekend leading the conference with the lowest ERA and most victories (14).

The sophomore did not add to her victory total, as the Illini tagged her with her sixth and seventh losses of the season Saturday.

In the opening game of the series, the Illini notched two runs in the first inning off Moulton, which would be all the Illini needed as starting pitcher Pepper Gay pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing just two hits.

“We were coming into one of the best pitchers in the Big Ten, so it was a good test for us,” senior

Meredith Hackett said.

In Saturday’s second game, the Illini would come from behind to win in the seventh inning with a walk-off double by third baseman Kelley Wedel as shortstop Jessica Davis crossed home to seal the doubleheader sweep. The Illini totaled four runs and four hits off Moulton in the second game, including a two-run home run by Hackett.

“Our team has been in all game situations this season and coming from behind is something that we’ve really shown is a characteristic of this team,” Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said of the second victory.

Hackett hit three home runs and had six RBIs to lead the Illini offense in the past four games.

“I don’t really swing to hit balls out of the park, but when you hit the ball hard and make good contact at this level, it’s going to go,” Hackett said.

Hackett leads the Illini in about every offensive statistic and ranks fourth in the Big Ten in slugging percentage (.675) and eighth in on-base percentage (.484).

“It’s what we expect of her, to be honest with you. She always has the power, and she is a senior leader for us,” Sullivan said. “But she’s not a secret to anyone we play, and I think that again really speaks to how good of a hitter she is and how she can be really mentally tough at the plate.”

*Illini open up the Big Ten season at home*

After a long start to the season that included five road tournaments in six weeks, Illinois competed Saturday and Sunday in front of its home crowd at Eichelberger Field for the first time this season.

The Illini opened up Big Ten season play against Minnesota, winning two out of three games.

“It was really big getting the doubleheader sweep yesterday and in front of our fans, they were really great,” Gay said, after recording two wins Saturday. “We had a lot come out and support us, and that’s always exciting to open Big Tens at home.”

A strong home record will be important for the Illini this season in hopes of finishing near the top of the Big Ten and clinching a postseason berth. Illinois has had success at home, going 8-7 last season and 12-1 during the 2009-10 season.

Illinois will host Wisconsin, Purdue and Penn State at home, as well as a few nonconference games, including a matchup Wednesday against Indiana State.

This Wednesday is important for the Illini as they look to bounce back from Sunday’s loss before entering another challenging Big Ten weekend at Iowa.

“On Wednesday, we’re just going to have a short memory about (Sunday’s) game and take it to Indiana State,” Gay said. “Then we go to Iowa. We’re just really confident­. It’s the Big Tens; anyone can win on any given day, so we’re just going to have to come out and play our best.”