Anyone watching the 2013 Illinois Fighting Illini softball team got the pleasure of seeing two completely different teams this season. One team was a team that went 11-14 in their non-conference schedule and began their Big Ten season at 1-11. The other team, however, turned things around, winning 10 of their last 11 Big Ten games, and sprinkling in a tough fought road win against the Southern Illinois Salukis in Carbondale, Illinois.
This season was not without its share of moments, both good and bad.
On the bad side, there were some rough losses, including games against Drake University and Eastern Illinois University, a small school 45 minutes south from the Champaign campus. Even with the losses piling up and team morale surely low, the girls kept fighting. Any time a team is six games below .500, there is certainly little to hang your hat on. However, this team kept going after opponents, and at 10-16, they defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the #24 team in the nation, an ode to a team that stuck together, despite failing to succeed on the field.
At 11-25, the Illini had not won since defeating Nebraska almost a month prior. Then, almost instantly, a switch was hit and they went on a tear in Big Ten play. Sitting dead last in the conference, the Illini won ten of their final eleven conference games, sweeping Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan State. The team found cohesiveness on the field, and began shutting down opponents, never allowing more than five runs in a game over their last twelve total games.
Despite playing well down the stretch, the Illini fizzled out in the Big Ten tournament, and could not capitalize on 4 extra base hits, allowing Penn State to pull out the upset win in Nebraska.
Illinois did a great job to show heart, talent, and pride for their University. Their hard play did not go unnoticed as the Big Ten awards were announced.
Alex Booker took home a spot on the All-Big Ten Second Team, hitting .352 and stealing 20 bases in 21 attempts. As a junior, she could have an MVP like season in 2014.
It was not all for Booker, though, as she and Jami Schkade took home a spot on the inaugural Big Ten All Defensive Team. Jenna Mychko, one of the leaders on this Illini squad, took home the Big Ten Sportsman Award.
As 2013 comes to a close for the Fighting Illini softball team, we saw Terri Sullivan’s team grow together and learn how to win games when the weight of the world was on their shoulders. They learned how to fight and claw their way back when it would have been easier to throw in the towel. Who could have blamed them? Their season was bleak. This team chose to play harder, and that showed late in the year.
The girls made the Illini fan base proud. And for that, we thank you. Go Illini!
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