By FRED KRONER
URBANA — Brittany Sanchez is the one.
The sophomore is the one Illini who has played in all 29 of the team’s softball games.
She is the one who drove in the first Illinois run in Wednesday’s 6-5 nonconference loss to Indiana State at Eichelberger Field.
The center fielder is the one squad member whose father (Israel) was a former major league baseball player, pitching in 30 games for the Kansas City Royals between 1988 and 1990.
Sanchez is the one Illini — with at least 50 plate appearances — who has raised her batting average the most since the 2012 season ended. Her average, .172 last year, is now at .247.
“She’s doing what we think she can do,” UI coach Terri Sullivan said. “She can be a player to be reckoned with in the Big Ten.”
Sanchez was in the starting lineup as a freshman for the team’s first game.
Her biggest adjustment as a collegian, she said, was “the intensity of practice. You have to do your best in practice to prove you should be on the field.”
Her father retired from the major leagues 28 months before she was born, but Sanchez still spent time around the diamond as a youth.
“He played 16-inch softball competitively, and that competitiveness rubbed off on me, my sister and my brother,” she said.
The Sanchez youngsters didn’t need encouragement to play the game.
“We’ve done it by ourselves,” Brittany Sanchez said. “We just picked up a ball and bat, and it clicked.”
Sullivan likes her progress. “She is very composed and consistent with her emotions,” Sullivan said. “She has a strong throwing arm, gets a good read on the ball and is more confident.”
Her teammates didn’t lose confidence against the Sycamores. Despite losing a 2-0 lead and trailing 6-2, Illinois closed to within a run on Jessica Davis’ three-run homer off the scoreboard before ISU sophomore Ashley Dickerson — making her collegiate pitching debut — earned a save with a scoreless inning.
Ask the expert: Not all is lost
We asked beat writer FRED KRONER for his take on Terri Sullivan’s team:
The 11-18 Illini are off to the worst start in school history. However, it’s not all gloom and doom for coach Terri Sullivan’s squad.
There’s plenty of time — 35 days — to regroup and salvage a chance for postseason play. After four years without a Big Ten tournament, the league revived the postseason format this spring, with the winner securing an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. Illinois is 1-4 in the Big Ten ahead of a three-game series this weekend at Northwestern, but its strength of schedule — according to the NCAA — ranks fifth nationally. Every Big Ten team will get a shot in the league tournament, which starts May 9 in Nebraska. That guarantees that no team, even ones that are currently sub-.500, will go through the motions during the regular season’s final month.