Friday's UI roundup: Softball takes down 2 ranked foes

Friday's UI roundup: Softball takes down 2 ranked foes

HOUSTON — An opening-day doubleheader against ranked opponents offered a huge test for Illinois softball on Friday afternoon.

And the Illini aced it with flying colors.

A pair of home runs and capitalizing on a few opposing errors helped Illinois thrive in its season opener, winning 7-4 over No. 22 Oklahoma State to begin its stay at the five-game Houston Invitational.

Then, the Illini held pace to a 6-5 win in an eight-inning slugfest against No. 13 Kentucky, with the two sides combining for five homers. It was the program's first-ever win over the Wildcats, who bounced the Illini from the NCAA Regionals in both 2017 and 2016, and Illinois' 600th all-time victory.

"Can't say enough of finally taking care of a very good team," Illinois coach Tyra Perry said on Friday's 'SportsTalk' radio show. "Hopefully this is a spin in our direction."

The Wildcats threatened after the Illini took a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning. Kentucky cut the deficit to 6-5 on Sarah Rainwater's two-run shot off freshman right-hander Sydney Sickels. But Sickels, who tossed all eight innings, picked up her sixth strikeout and later finished the job for a debut victory.

"For her to come in at this magnitude and hold her own and stay focused, it's tremendous and she's that kind of kid," Perry said.

Sophomore catcher Bella Loya, who last season was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team, homered in each game and finished with a team-leading five RBI through the two wins.

The Illini also got steady contributions from Kiana Sherlund, who was named to the Top 50 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Watch List. The senior outfielder went 4 for 6 on the day with two runs, three doubles and two walks.

In men's golf.

Top-seeded UI advances. No. 1-seeded Illinois posted a 3.5-2.5 victory over eighth-seeded Michigan State in Friday's quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Match Play Championship in Hammock Beach, Fla., setting up a semifinal round match against No. 4 Ohio State today starting at 7 a.m.

In women's gymnastics.

Noonan clinches win. A career-high 9.925 result for sophomore Kylie Noonan in her floor routine helped Illinois snap a two-meet losing skid and edge out Michigan State, 195.100-194.575, on Friday night in front of 1,779 fans at Huff Hall in the "Stuff Huff" match.

Noonan also won the uneven bars (9.875) ahead of redshirt senior Mary Jane Otto; though, Otto came away with her own pair of wins on the balance beam (9.875) and in the all-around (39.325).

Junior Karen Howell and sophomore Kasey Meeks delivered a 1-2 punch to open the meet for the Illini on vault, each tying for the win with 9.900s.

In men's tennis.

Illini drop Wildcats. No. 14 Illinois cruised to a 4-1 dual victory over Kentucky on Friday night, claiming its third straight win to kick off the spring schedule.

Zeke Clark, who clinched the match with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory in singles, paired with fellow junior Vuk Budic for a 6-0 win in doubles that helped the Illini seize the first point.

In women's tennis.

Illini down Irish. Illinois women's tennis smashed its way to a 4-3 victory over Notre Dame to begin a four-game homestand at Atkins Tennis Center.

After claiming the doubles point, Mia Rabinowitz and Sasha Belaya each won their singles bouts in straight sets to pull Illinois within clinching distance, while Asuka Kawai delivered the finishing blow.

In men's track and field.

Quinn edged out. Illinois sprinter Devin Quinn was unable to follow last weekend's 60-meter dash victory with another, but the senior still took third place with a clocking of 6.67 seconds in Friday night's event finals at the Tyson Invite in Fayetteville, Ark.

In women's track and field.

Craddock leads the way. Sophomore Rebecca Craddock's personal-best time of 9 minutes, 30.97 seconds in the 3,000-meter run was good for second place and keyed the best finish for the Illini during Friday's opening day of action at the Iowa State Classic in Ames, Iowa.