Illinois softball splits pair in Florida (2024)

By Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor February 18, 2024

Jack Larson

Junior pitcher Lauren Wiles delivers a pitch at home against Eastern Illinois on Apr. 25, 2023.

Freezing temperatures returned to Champaign this weekend, bringing a few inches of swirling snow on Friday. Campustown was all white and slick with ice; it was no place to play a softball game. While students shivered the moment they stepped outside in their winter coats, the Illinois softball team enjoyed the nicer weather of Leesburg, Florida — but only for a day.

The second weekend of the 2024 softball season saw the Illini in the Spring Games, where they prepared for more nonconference action. Following their opening week, where the Illini dropped all three games, the competition in Florida posed a better opportunity for the Illini to get in the win column.

Game one began Friday afternoon, with the Illini taking the diamond across from the Liberty Flames (2-7). The Flames had won their first matchup in the Spring Games, entering with some momentum, but junior pitcher Lauren Wiles didn’t care. The righty went 4.2 innings, allowing just one run and, most importantly, getting her first win of the year.

With Wiles dealing in the circle, the offense stepped up with some run support. Senior shortstop Megan Ward got the Illini on the board first amid a two-for-three day where she filled the box score. Ward scored two runs in addition to her RBI, helping Illinois pull away late.

After the Flames tied it up at one a-piece in the third inning, freshman third baseman Adisyn Caryl tallied the first RBI of her young career. A double into the left field corner scored the go-ahead run, and the Illini led for good. Junior catcher Paige Berkmeyer jumped in on the festivities after a pitching change for her first of two run-scoring knocks.

    “It was kind of surreal I guess, because I’ve been looking forward to this for forever,” said Caryl. “I got an RBI, and that happened to be in the game we won, so I felt really good about it.”

    Senior pitcher Tori McQueen entered from the bullpen to shut things down with the lead, striking out three batters in 2.1 innings. The Illini celebrated their first win of the year shortly before a quick turnaround saw them play their second game of the day immediately after.

    Game two featured the Kansas Jayhawks (4-5-1), who were already in their fourth game of the weekend. This one was close to the finish and eerily similar to the final two games from the opening weekend for the Illini: competitive to the end, but unable to finish.

    Caryl wasted no time in this one, as the Kansas native laced a single into left field to bring home a run in the top of the first. The third basem*nt admitted that felt good after the game, as her intensity was ramped up playing against the team from her home state.

    “It was funny because my family always used to say, ‘what are the odds you play kansas?'” she said. “I know five people on the team, and personally its kind of like a rivalary, obviously not for Illinois, but for me because I live 30 minutes away.”

    Junior pitcher Briana Bower benefited from the early run support, but could not hold the lead. The Mississippi State transfer has struggled to start the season, allowing five runs in two outings. One was against the Jayhawks, who got on the board quickly.

    Two runs in the first inning and five in the fourth gave the Jayhawks a 7-1 advantage, but the Illini would not go down without a fight. Caryl got them started in the top of the sixth, reaching on a single before Ward followed her on an error. Senior designated hitter Abby Ryniec provided a productive out to score a run before Berkmeyer tallied another.

    One final insurance run for the Jayhawks in the bottom of the sixth put them ahead 8-3, with the heart of the Illinois order coming to the dish. Junior left fielder Stevie Meade cracked a double down the line as five of the first six Illini reached base safely in the final inning.

    Meade scored on a passed ball, and a couple of batters later, the Ryniec-Berkmeyer duo stepped up once again, roping back-to-back RBI singles. Suddenly, the Illini were down just two, with runners on second and third and only one out.

    Head coach Tyra Perry called up freshman utility player Delaney Mosley to pinch hit in this massive early-season situation and got a run out of it. Mosley grounded a ball toward short, and the Jayhawks conceded a run while recording the second out of the inning. Graduate student center fielder Serena Starks stepped to the plate needing a base hit to tie it but struck out to end the game.

    Although Illinois outscored Kansas 6-1 in the final two frames, it was too late. The Illini finished the day 1-1, with three games remaining on Saturday and Sunday. However, just like last weekend, rain got in the way. The Florida weather one-upped the Alabama weather from a week ago, canceling games not only on Saturday but for the rest of the weekend.

    “We did a lot of team bonding,” Caryl noted. “I think it’s really good that we molded together with these five or so days that we haven’t been able to play.”

    Aside from allowing five runs in the fourth inning of game two, it was a solid weekend for the Illini, who looked like they found some footing. So, the Illini return home early after playing fewer games than expected again, but a win under their belts gives them something to build off of before a four-game West Coast trip later this week.

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    About the Contributors

    Illinois softball splits pair in Florida (2)

    Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor

    Hello, I’m Ben! I’m a junior at Illinois and assistant sports editor at The Daily Illini. I’m majoring in journalism and minoring in communications and recreation, sport and tourism. This is my third year with The Daily Illini, and I can’t wait to produce some amazing work. Feel free to contact me at my email below with questions or concerns, or if you just want to talk sports!

    Jack Larson, Assistant buzz Editor

    Illinois softball splits pair in Florida (2024)
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