CHAMPAIGN — Illinois softball finished the end of the regular season in a slide, losing its final two games at Eichelberger Field to Penn State. The Big Ten tournament wasn’t much better with a one-and-done appearance in East Lansing, Mich., after being upset by Ohio State in the quarterfinals.
Illinois (34-20) now has the chance to start fresh after earning an NCAA tournament berth. The Illini will travel to Columbia, Mo., for the Missouri Regional May 20-22 and face Arizona (33-20) in the first round. The other matchup in Columbia features No. 15 Missouri (36-20) against in-state foe Missouri State (27-18).
Illinois had won eight of 10 before the pair of slip-ups against Penn State last week and finished third in the Big Ten. It was the best conference finish in Tyra Perry’s six-season tenure, and the NCAA tournament bid is the fourth total for Perry’s Illini and first since 2019.
Senior second baseman Avery Steiner, a First Team All-Big Ten selection this season, leads Illinois with a .389 batting average and has struck out just 18 times in 190 at bats. junior third baseman Delaney Rummell leads the Illini with 10 home runs and 34 RBI, and junior right fielder Kelly Ryono is batting .322 with five home runs and 32 RBI.
Illinois has leaned on three pitches throughout the season. Senior right-hander Sydney Sickels is 12-8 with a 1.97 ERA, 186 strikeouts and 34 walks in 138 2/3 innings, and sophomore left-hander Tori McQueen has a 13-5 record to go with a 2.38 ERA, 126 strikeouts and 21 walks in 109 innings. Freshman righty Lauren Wiles is also 8-6 with a 2.57 ERA, 91 strikeouts and 40 walks in 103 1/3 innings.
Arizona was more successful during the nonconference portion of its schedule, winning 25 of 29 games. The Wildcats stumbled in the tough Pac-12 — Arizona State, UCLA and Washington are all seeded teams in the NCAA tournament — finishing eighth with an 8-16 conference record.
Sophomore outfielder Jasmine Perezchica leads a talented young Arizona team with a .393 batting average and has 10 steals in 13 attempts. The Wildcats’ power comes from sophomore second baseman Allie Skaggs (22 home runs), sophomore first baseman Carlie Scupin (17 home runs) and redshirt sophomore catcher Sharlize Palacios (17 home runs). Sophomore right-hander Devyn Netz is Arizona’s top pitcher and is 13-7 on the season with a 3.90 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 39 walks in 113 innings.
Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is [email protected], and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).