CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The Illinois softball team set the tone for the 2020 season in its opening weekend, knocking off two ranked teams while posting a 4-0 record at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Florida. The unranked Illini took down No. 21 Ole Miss and shutout No. 23 Auburn, while also beating Liberty and South Alabama. It’s the first time since 2017 the team opened its first weekend with four straight wins, and just the sixth time in program history.
“We came in with lots of energy and I think we just have to keep that up, as we go into the next week,” Illinois pitcher Sydney Sickels said. “Just think we’re still 0-0 and to not ride too much on how we did the last weekend.”
Sickels was named to the All-Tournament Team after going 2-0 with two saves and a 0.00 ERA in 15.2 innings. The sophomore was also named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, making an appearance in all four games for the Illini, posting 14 strikeouts. Overall, the Illini scored 18 runs in four games, something head coach Tyra Perry says needs to improve. Mississippi State won the NFCA Leadoff Classic over Illinois in a run differential tiebreaker, the Bulldogs put up 26 runs.
“We played very well, this past weekend, and we probably are still operating at only 55, maybe 60 percent of what we could operate at,” Illinois head coach Tyra Perry said. “A lot of that lies in our offense, and I think if we can improve there it’ll help.”
Illinois will play four more games this weekend as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in Raleigh, North Carolina, facing Notre Dame and North Carolina State each twice.