After two exciting series wins against Penn State and Iowa, the Maryland softball team (15-20, 5-1 Big Ten) earned its fifth straight victory in Big Ten play and first back-to-back series sweep since 2015 in the 1-0 win against Iowa last Sunday. The Terps look to keep the good record going for their three-game series against Illinois (22-13, 3-4 Big Ten) this weekend.
In a reverse of fortunes, the Fighting Illini went 1-3 in their most recent week of conference play, splitting their double-header against Northwestern and dropping two to a Minnesota sweep. But the Terps’ impressive start is no guarantee that defeating this offensive powerhouse will be simple.
“They just attack pitches,” head coach Julie Wright said. “[If their] hitters are hitting pitches early in the count, then they’re going to have a really good opportunity to hit the ball well.”
Illinois’ 49 total runs and 59 hits are good for second in the Big Ten this season. They’re also tied for first with Indiana in steals with 13 total.
Stephanie Abello and Carly Thomas lead Illinois’ offense, hitting .381 and .375, respectively. Still, Maryland senior captain Skylynne Ellazar has dominated the category, hitting a .524 in conference play with five runs and six RBIs.
Nonetheless, Wright believes the diversity of Maryland’s pitching staff will help counteract those ruthless Illinois batters.
“We can use that to our advantage to keep hitters off-balance,” Wright said. “Sydney [Golden] matches up well, and Ryan [Denhart] matches up well with some of the things she can do on the inside and the outside of the plate.”
Junior pitcher Sydney Golden has had a phenomenal start in conference play so far with a .084 ERA and only allowing 14 hits in 25 innings pitched. Though phenomenal pitching will be crucial, Freshman pitcher Ryan Denhart said the pitchers may have to rely on their defensive back-up if they wish to prevent those runs.
“They’re definitely very good hitters,” Denhart said. “So as pitchers, we’re going to have to throw our pitches and make them mishit the ball, and rely on our defense more than trying to strike [Illinois batters] out.”
Wright said in a March 9th interview that defense doesn’t win softball games; it loses them. If the Terps want to continue their win-streak, they’ll need to be more aggressive on strikes and seal more opportunities to get on base.
“I think mechanically and hitting-wise, we’re there,” Wright said. “We just need to take it a step further with the mental approach.”
The first game against Illinois will take place at 2 p.m. on Friday at Eichelberger Field. The series will be live-streamed on BTN plus.