Illinois concludes season at Iowa

LeeAnn Butcher needs one stolen base to take sole possession of second on Illinois' all-time steals list.
LeeAnn Butcher needs one stolen base to take sole possession of second on Illinois' all-time steals list.

May 5, 2005

Urbana, Ill. - Illinois softball concludes the 2005 season this weekend at Iowa with single games Saturday and Sunday in Iowa City. The Illini enter the contest with a 23-25 record, 3-13 in the Big Ten. Iowa is 44-10 heading into Thursday's doubleheader with Drake and are ranked No. 21 in the latest NFCA/USA Today poll.

Iowa leads the all-time series 6-5, including a 3-0 mark in Iowa City. Last season Illinois swept the two-game series in Champaign to secure second place in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes are in third in the conference with an 11-5 mark this season. After advancing to the conference tournament during the first four years in the Big Ten, the Illini will not qualify for the first time this year. Despite that Illinois Head Coach Terri Sullivan says there is still a lot to play for.

"We still have a chance to finish .500, which was not our goal obviously, but it gives us something to shoot for," Sullivan said. "Once we're on the field, the approach is still the same. You want to win no matter the situation."

Illinois is playing some of its best softball of the season down the stretch, winners of five of its last seven games after Tuesday's 4-2 victory at Eastern Illinois.

"Our defense, in particularly our infield defense, has really done a nice of job of making the routine plays," Sullivan said.

Jackelyn Diekemper has done a great job in the circle over the past two games in relief. She retired 13 batters in a row at one point in working the final six innings in relief Sunday vs. Wisconsin then pitched the final four innings vs. EIU, giving up just one unearned run in picking up her first career save.

"JD has done a great job of throwing strikes lately and that has made her a pretty effective pitcher," Sullivan said. "All three of our pitchers have shown at times this season that they can be dominating if they can get ahead of hitters."

Shanna Diller and Jenna Hall come into the weekend still with a chance to break the Illinois' single-season RBI mark of 40. Diller's squeeze bunt vs. EIU gave her 38 RBI, while Hall has 37. Both Hall and Diller are tied for the team lead this season with seven home runs. Senior LeeAnn Butcher is tied for second on the all-time career stolen bases list with 55 heading into the weekend.

If the Illini are to be successful, they'll have to do it against two of the top hurlers in the Big Ten in Lisa Birocci (24-7, 1.15 ERA, 221 strikeouts) and Ali Arnold (19-3, 1.49 ERA, 187 strikeouts).

Illinois will try to defeat a ranked opponent for the third time this season, having also beaten No. 5 LSU (5-3 on Feb. 12) and No. 20 Northwestern (5-3 on March 26).