Illinois softball looks to turn its season around in Houston

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Illinois’ Shelese Arnold (12) pitches during the game against Nebraska on April 6. The Illini lost 12-3 in five innings.

By Cole Henke

The Illinois softball team looks to improve on its 3-7 record as it heads to Houston for the Houston Hilton Plaza Classic. 

The Illini showed small improvement last weekend, and look to build on that foundation. After a slow opening weekend in which Illinois won one game, the team went 2-5 at the February Freezer in Starkville, Mississippi, but one of those wins was against an undefeated Mississippi State team in the last game of the weekend. 

The win against the Bulldogs gave the Illini a sense of satisfaction, and the team hopes to continue momentum into this weekend.

Head coach Terri Sullivan believes their rough start to the season is only making Illinois more prepared for Big Ten play. Sullivan said the team is showing a lot of resilience and that their close games only make it better, despite the outcome.

This weekend’s tournament has the Illini traveling south for the third straight week, to play five more games in the Houston Hilton Plaza Classic — one against Texas A&M Corpus-Christi (0-10-1), two against New Mexico (4-6) and two against the host Houston (6-8). 

The Houston Hilton Plaza Classic is a good time for the Illini to improve their record. A major struggle for the Illini has been hitting with runners in scoring position. They average 6.3 runners left on base per game and average 4.3 runs per game. Failing to score baserunners has made the Illini the victims of multiple late-game losses.

Another key for the Illini will be the pitching staff, specifically senior Shelese Arnold and sophomore Breanna Wonderley.

“We need our staff,” Sullivan said. “I expect Breanna and Shelese to come out and throw really well, and be able to close out these games.”

Arnold and Wonderly will look to end games much better than they did last weekend. Arnold picked up her first two wins of the season this past weekend and looks to keep that momentum going.

Even though this will be the third trip south for the Illini, Sullivan said that the travel is by no means an excuse for their play so far.

The Illini have been practicing inside for most of the spring. Having to play outside on the road could be a reason for some uncharacteristic errors made by the team, involving defense and pitching.

“We have a rule in our program,” Sullivan said. “We can’t blame anything that is out of our control. We never blame weather or the field of play for anything.”

Wins this weekend would give the Illini momentum for the upcoming Big Ten season and it gives them practice playing games they should win.

Cole can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @cole_Henke.