(Eugene Nash / The Left Bench)

Softball season ends with loss to Illinois in Big Ten tournament

Despite leading for much of the game, the Maryland softball team (18-37) dropped a 5-3 contest to Illinois (37-17) in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, ending the Terps’ season.

After being swept in their only regular season series on April 6 to 8 in Champaign, Illinois, the Terps look poised to reverse their fortunes when it counted most. Maryland, however, coughed up a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, allowing the Illini to score three runs in the frame to stun the Terps.

Junior Sydney Golden got the start for the Terps, striking out three batters in five innings.

Illinois struck first in the first inning. Two straight errors by second baseman Sky Ellazar and first baseman Jacqui Pascual set up a bases loaded, one out situation. A fielder’s choice brought home the Illini’s first run.

Maryland jumped ahead with two runs in the the third. After setting up a bases loaded, one out situation of their own, Pascual ripped a double down the right field line to plate two. The Terps added another run in the fourth when shortstop Mikayla Werahiko reached on a bunt single, advanced to second on a fielder’s choice, and scored on Ellazar’s single up the middle.

Illinois got a run back in the fifth on a single by infielder Leigh Farina, who advanced to third on a couple of fielder’s choices and scored on an RBI single by infielder Sam Acosta.

The Terps lost their lead, and their season, for good in the sixth. After Golden issued a leadoff walk, freshman Ryan Denhart entered in relief. A series of unfortunate events — a stolen base, triple, hit by pitch, passed ball and, finally, a fielder’s choice — brought in three Illinois runs. The Terps were unable to respond this time, going down in order in the top of the seventh for a quick end to their first Big Ten tournament in three years.

Despite a disappointing finish, the Terps made strides this season. Their 18 wins surpassed the totals of 2016 (12) and 2017 (11). Maryland also got off to a historic start in Big Ten play, going 5-1 in their first six games, sweeping Iowa and taking two of three from Penn State along the way.

Wright said she was impressed with the overall effort the players put in this season and enjoyed watching them grow and develop. She pointed to defense and limiting unearned runs as an area she hopes to work with the players to improve next season.

“They’re fighters and they’re very competitive kids,” Wright said. “Sometimes because of their youth they’ll lose a little bit of focus, but when they get all the way there and locked in, they’re great at attacking and not giving up.”