Illinois softball faced inconsistency in the circle over the weekend

During its second weekend of play, the Illinois softball pitching staff continued its struggles in the circle but showed signs of improvement in its final two games.

In the Illini’s first of five games over the weekend, senior pitcher Shelese Arnold hurled a strong first three innings before giving up five late-inning runs to UT-Martin. Jade Vecvanags entered the game in the final frame and earned her first loss of the season after a UTM walk-off single. Although she only allowed three hits in her three innings pitched, Vecvanags gave up three runs during Illinois’ second game on Friday against Mississippi State, which she started.

Sophomore Breanna Wonderly finished the game and was given the loss after giving up six runs in the Illini’s comeback attempt. In the Illini’s first game Saturday, Wonderly only gave up one run in her five innings pitched against Louisiana Tech. But Arnold took over for the final two innings and gave up a game-winning two-run homer. Arnold did bounce back to pitch two complete games in the weekend’s remaining matchups.

Although Arnold allowed four earned runs, the Illini picked up six of their own against Lamar, giving Arnold her first win of the year. In the Illini’s final game of the February Freezer, Arnold allowed Mississippi State just two earned runs despite nine hits and four walks, turning in seven strikeouts.

Combined, the three Illini pitchers gave up 24 runs mostly in the late innings of their five games, in addition to 16 walks and 17 strikeouts.

Clutch hitting woes

Though remaining consistent with the hitting success of its opponents, Illinois struggled to take advantage of runners in scoring position over the weekend.

Despite a four-run seventh inning in Friday’s 9-8 loss to Mississippi State, Illinois couldn’t convert the late comeback. This was one of three straight one-run losses for the Illini. Illinois continued its clutch hitting slump against Louisiana Tech on Saturday. Although the Illini out-hit the Lady Techsters, 8-6, Illinois left five runners in scoring position, contributing to another one-run loss.

In its final two games of the weekend, Illinois led early and was consistent in the circle, which led to the team’s second and third wins of the season.

One-run games

All five of the Illini’s games over the weekend came down to one run. Only the final two ended in the Illini’s favor. Head coach Terri Sullivan said that win or lose, these close games early in the season may prove beneficial to her team.

“As you get deeper into your season, you want to know that you can win those one-run games,” Sullivan said. “It says a lot about a team to be able to pull out games like that. We just need to keep moving forward and bring out our best games for every game.”

Sophomore shortstop Ruby Rivera stressed the importance of each play in each game and the impact that the slightest loss of focus can have on the outcome of a game.

“We have to stay on top of our games,” Rivera said. “We were so close in all five of these games. One hit can lose a game. Everyone has a role on this team, and we all believe that we can always fulfill our roles.”

Lauren can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @MrozLauren.