Kroner: Big Ten tourney thoughts
The Big Ten softball tourney starts Thursday with four first-round games at Lincoln, Neb. All Illini games will be carried live on WDWS (1400 AM), with Brian Moline on the call.
Because there are so many teams in the Big Ten, the league doesn’t play a complete round-robin schedule during the regular season. Illinois’ expected 4:30 p.m. opener on Thursday (pairings will be released officially tonight) is a Penn State team that the Illini haven’t played. This is an advantage for the Illini. The Nittany Lions haven’t had the opportunity to face senior pitcher Pepper Gay this spring. “If she throws like (Sunday), people are in trouble,” Illini coach Terri Sullivan said.
Since the Illini weren’t among the top four seeds (the teams receiving first-round byes), they face the prospect of needing to win four games in four days to secure an automatic NCAA berth. “The number of games is irrelevant,” Sullivan said. “We’re used to tournaments where we play five games in two days. We’re used to that. This is more fun because something is on the line.” Sunday’s split ended with a feel-good second-game walkoff win. “We’re clicking on all cylinders,” Katie Repole said.
At their best
The season record is still under .500 (22-26), but the Illini enter the postseason with a boatload of confidence. From the time the season started on Feb. 8 through April 19 (a 71-day span), the Illini won 11 games. In the last 16 days, Sullivan’s team has won 11 more (out of 12 games). “We’re on fire right now,” said shortstop Jessica Davis (left), one of two UI senior starters. “We have a lot of talent, a lot of good team play and we have momentum which helps us keep our confidence.”