Softball happy to walk away with split
URBANA — When the day was done, when the scorebooks were closed, when the bats were put away, Illinois’ softball team had a doubleheader split to show for its 41/2 hours at Eichelberger Field on an overcast Saturday.
The UI win — 5-4 in the second game against No. 24 Nebraska — was the eighth in school history at home against a nationally ranked opponent.
Until the sixth inning of the nightcap, everything about the game was a deja vu image of the opener, which the Cornhuskers won 6-2 thanks to a five-run seventh-inning.
— In each game, the Illini led 2-0 after two innings;
— In each game, UI pitchers threw more balls than strikes;
— In each game, Illinois players carried the same attitude onto the field.
“You’ve got to keep going at them and not give up,” said pitcher Shelese Arnold, who earned the second-game win.
And, in fact, the same pattern was followed in Game 2 as in Game 1 with one significant change: a different team benefitted from the opponents’ inability to throw strikes.
Nebraska scored its first run in the opener when a batter was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. The Cornhuskers (24-7) scored the tie-breaking run when a player drew a bases-loaded walk.
In Game 2, the Illini created a 4-4 tie when Alex Booker was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Illinois (11-16) scored the tie-breaking run when Allie Bauch drew a bases-loaded walk.
“Things sometimes even out,” Illini coach Terri Sullivan said. “You never know what’ll happen in a given moment.
“The best of the best handle failure better than the rest.”
While many of the numbers were not good for UI pitchers Arnold and Pepper Gay (16 combined walks, five hit batters and three total strikeouts), Sullivan viewed the performance differently.
“It somewhat worked in our favor because we didn’t let their hitters get any momentum going,” she said. “Against a prolific offensive team, which came in with almost a .300 batting average (.298 after 29 games), our pitchers had back-to-back five-hitters.”
When Arnold most needed to be sharp, she was.
Nursing a one-run lead in the seventh — the inning that devastated the Illini in Game 1 — she faced the 3-5 hitters in the Nebraska lineup. Each was hitting at least .330 for the year. Arnold retired all three on outfield fly balls, the last two hauled in by center fielder Brittany Sanchez.
“My drop (pitch) was a little off. It didn’t work like it usually does,” Arnold said. “We had to stay aggressive.”
On a day when just two Illini had hits in both games — first baseman Remeny Perez and shortstop Jessica Davis — the team extended its streak of consecutive games without an error to four. Catchers Linnea Detrick and Jenna Mychko both threw out the only would-be basestealer in the game they were behind the plate.
Illinois entered the weekend with the nation’s eighth-toughest schedule but was 0-7 against ranked teams before rallying in the second game.
“We don’t want to play a tough schedule and not come away with any wins,” Sullivan said. “Coming away with a one-run victory, after that first-game loss, was huge.”