Illini dispatch in-state opponent ahead of weekend honoring inaugural team

Illini dispatch in-state opponent ahead of weekend honoring inaugural team

URBANA — Tyra Perry admitted it was difficult to select Illinois softball's player of the game on Wednesday.

In this case, that was a good thing.

Perry and her staff ultimately settled on Kiana Sherlund, who smacked a two-run homer among three hits in the Illini's 13-4 drubbing of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville over five innings at Eichelberger Field.

"She was very calm and did a lot of good things," Perry said of Sherlund. "It's great to see her finding her optimal performance and sticking with it."

Perry could say that about plenty of her Illini (27-14) at the dish versus the Cougars (12-19).

Annie Fleming led off the bottom of the first with a tone-setting longball.

Stephanie Abello and Katie Wingerter also went deep, with the latter blast a three-run shot.

And Kailee Powell provided two RBI without a single base hit.

"It's nice to see our players have great outcomes from all (their) hard work," Perry said. "Yes, the wind was blowing out, but a lot of the balls cleared (the wall) pretty handily."

The pitching duo of Taylor Edwards and Emily Oestreich did the rest.

While the Arcola product Edwards didn't put forth her strongest outing — permitting three earned runs in 3 1 / 3 innings of work — she didn't allow SIUE to string together any big rallies.

At the same time, the Illini potted four runs in the first inning, six in the second and three more in the fourth.

"(Edwards) has come through for us of late and has done a great job," Perry said. "Right now, we'd like Taylor to just relax in her success and not try to do more than what she's been doing."

Heading into an important three-game homestand against No. 22 Michigan (30-11) beginning Friday, Perry didn't place too much emphasis on the quickness of Wednesday's matchup with the Cougars.

Instead, she opted to focus more on the way Illinois competed in its shortened diamond time.

"We were very clean in our offensive game — taking our pitches and taking our hacks," Perry said. "Our defense wasn't perfect by any means, but ... we didn't let things spiral, which was huge."

The Illini's upcoming tilts with the Wolverines are important from both a Big Ten Conference and postseason aspiration perspective.

But there's even more value placed on this series courtesy off-field activities.

Illinois will recognize the 20th anniversary of its first-ever team, honoring such crucial figures in Illini softball history as 16-year boss Terri Sullivan and Shorty Eichelberger, for whom the club's complex is named.

"We definitely have a festive weekend ahead of us," Perry said with a laugh. "We have quite a few alumni events in which many of our alumni will be flying in for. We're truly excited about that."

In theory, the lively atmosphere surrounding this set of games could serve as a bit of a distraction for the current Illinois roster.

Again, Perry looks at that aspect in a different light.

She views this weekend as "a warmup" for the world's largest tailgate and senior night, both of which occur during the Illini's final Big Ten series of 2019, May 3-5 against Purdue.

"Excitement and big crowds have usually been good for us," Perry said. "It kind of feeds into our energy."