URBANA — The changes Terri Sullivan made were not out of desperation.
“It was to give us a fresh start,” the Illinois softball coach said.
The Illini were mired in a nine-game losing streak when she inserted freshman Kylie Johnson into the leadoff position — a spot she routinely batted in high school at Kankakee — and she dropped junior Alex Booker to the No. 3 slot because “we felt she had the confidence to be in that position.”
A squad that had lost 11 of its first 12 Big Ten games now has a chance to climb above the .500 mark in league play this weekend when it hosts Ohio State in a three-game series that closes out the home schedule.
“Players win games, not coaches,” Sullivan said. “You can make moves, but there is no magic formula.”
The nine-game winning streak is among the six longest in program history.
“We’re glad to be playing good softball to the level we’re capable of,” Sullivan said. “We’re playing our best softball right now.”
Illinois’ woes were compounded during its struggles by a schedule that has been ranked among the top 10 nationally, based on its strength, on the RPI scale.
“We got beat by some pretty good teams that were playing well,” Sullivan said. “We’ve done a very good job of playing to win innings, understanding that at this level, you take punches and give them back.”
The Big Ten tournament — which was revived this year — starts May 9 at Nebraska. At stake is an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The series with Ohio State — like Illinois, 9-11 in Big Ten games — will determine which school gets the No. 6 seed for the tournament.
This season’s nine-game winning streak ranks among the best in the 14-year history of the UI program:
NO. START DATE END DATE
12 April 13, 2010 May 5, 2010
11 April 9, 2003 April 20, 2003
10 Feb. 20, 2010 March 13, 2010
10 April 11, 2001 April 21, 2001
9 Feb. 7, 2004 Feb. 22, 2004
9 April 20, 2013 TBA
8 April 7, 2002 April 19, 2002