Arizona ARIZ 34-20
Illinois ILL 34-21
W: Bowen, Hanah (11-10) L: Sydney Sickels (12-9)
COLUMBIA, Mo. – In the opening game of the 2022 NCAA Softball Tournament and the Columbia Regional, the Fighting Illini softball team dropped an 8-3 decision to Arizona Friday afternoon at Mizzou Softball Stadium.
Illinois (34-21) was led at the plate by junior Kelly Ryono, who went 2-for-4 and knocked in all three of Illinois’ runs in the contest. Senior Avrey Steiner also grabbed two hits, while sophomore Megan Ward went 3-for-4. In the circle, senior Sydney Sickels tallied four strikeouts across 3.1 innings pitched but took the loss, dropping to 12-9 on the season. The Wildcats knocked four home runs in the game, while starting pitcher Hanah Bowen went the distance striking out eight batters and moving to 11-10 on the season.
HOW IT HAPPENED
After a 1-2-3 inning from Sickels in the first, the Illini were able to get on the board with two runs on three hits. Steiner led off the game with a single and advanced to second on a Stevie Meade sacrafice bunt. Ward then knocked a single and advanced to second on the throw, putting runners on second and third for Ryono who smashed a two-RBI double to the right-center gap, putting the Illini up 2-0.
Arizona responded in their half of the second with a solo home run, while the Illini got two runners on with a single from Paige Berkmeyer and a walk by Danielle Davis, but they were stranded on base. The Wildcats then responded with three runs in the third on a pair of home runs and threatened again in the fourth but were held to nothing by the Illini defense.
Another four runs in the fifth inning pushed the score to 8-2, and Illinois looked to respond in the bottom half of the fifth. Meade and Ward knocked back-to-back two-out singles in their half of the fifth but were unable to bring them around. Both teams threatened again in the sixth, but nothing came of the runners and the score sat at 8-2 heading into the seventh.
The Wildcats found a double and a hit by pitch in the seventh, but a strike out swinging and a tag at third ended the inning with Illinois needing a rally in the bottom of the seventh. Steiner led off the inning with a single, and Ward knocked her third single of the game, and Ryono knocked Steiner in on an RBI-single to move the score to 8-3. The rally came to a close after Ward was caught stealing on the base paths and a pop out, finishing the game in favor of the Wildcats.
Illinois will now play Missouri State tomorrow (May 21) in an elimination game at approximately 4:00 p.m. CT. If the Illini win, they would then face the loser of the Missouri vs. Arizona game at 6:30 p.m. CT for a chance to advance to the regional final.