Shanna Diller is tied for the Big Ten lead in runs scored with teammate Angelena Mexicano
Feb. 28, 2007
Urbana, Ill. - Illinois continues its run through the nation's top five teams this weekend. Having already met No. 1 Tennessee and with a date against No. 2 Arizona State later in the year, the Illini travel to College Station, Texas, this weekend where they will play two games against No. 4 Texas A&M. Illinois also meets Syracuse and McNeese State at the Texas A&M Invitational March 2-4.
Illinois already has two wins over a ranked team this year, having defeated No. 20 Louisville twice at the season opening Diamond Fun & Sun Classic. Top-ranked Tennessee defeated Illinois 5-0 the following week in Las Vegas.
The Illini are also at the halfway point of a string of six pre-conference weekend tournaments and have posted an 8-7 record to date. They are one of six Big Ten teams with a winning record through the first three weeks of the season.
Illinois has a huge lead in runs scored in the Big Ten, having averaged nearly six runs per game. Juniors Shanna Diller and Angelena Mexicano lead the conference with 14 runs individually while junior Makenzie Smith (14) and sophomore Lana Armstrong (13), are third and fourth, respectively, in RBI. While Illinois has shown flashes of great play, head coach Terri Sullivan says consistency is a major goal.
"We believe in our offense," Sullivan said. "The biggest key for our hitting now is that our batters have taken a real confident approach. While we've done that, we weren't as consistent as we wanted to 1-9 in our line-up last weekend."
Illinois is coming off a second-place finish at the six-team FAU Pepsi Classic, defeating Bethune Cookman, Jacksonville and Florida Atlantic, and falling to Texas Tech twice. Once of the biggest wins thus far was a 1-0 victory over host Florida Atlantic in front of a partisan crowd. Freshman Vicky Brown tossed a two-hit shutout.
"That was just a great pitching dual," Sullivan said. "Vicky handled the pressure really well and pitched a great game against a very tradition rich softball program."
Illinois gets two cracks at Texas A&M this weekend and if they can pull off the wins, it would mark the highest ranked team that Illinois has ever beaten. The Illini downed No. 5 LSU in 2005 in Las Vegas. The Aggies are 13-2 on the season, with their only two losses coming to defending national champion Arizona in Tucson. A&M, who also defeated the Wildcats once last weekend, has a .306 batting average.
"That's what it's all about," Sullivan said. "We believe we have the talent to play the schedule we do and we believe that with challenge comes great opportunity."
Sullivan cautions, however, that at this point in the season, the focus really is on preparing for the Big Ten season. "The tournaments thus far have let our players know what they need to work on and have put them in pressure situations," Sullivan explained. "We'd really like to focus more on ourselves than our opponents. Besides Texas A&M, Syracuse has a great reputation and McNeese plays a challenging schedule, but we're going to focus on doing our part. If we do that, I think we can beat anyone."