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FAYETTEVILLE, Ar. – In the final game of the Razorback Invitational, the Fighting Illini softball team mounted a late-inning comeback from down four runs to take down the 10th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks 8-6 Sunday afternoon. The win marks Illinois’ first win over a top-10 program since the Illini defeated #6 Minnesota in 2017 and the ninth overall top-10 win in program history.
The Illini were led in the circle by sophomore left-hander Tori McQueen, who tossed four innings and struck out a career-high 10 batters, and senior Sydney Sickels who came in relief and tossed two innings, allowing no runs and just two hits while also adding a strikeout.
Offensively, senior Avrey Steiner knocked in three runners in the game on four hits and two doubles. Redshirt sophomore Jaelyn Vickery added two RBIs courtesy of a two-run home run, graduate student Bella Loya knocked a two-run double to tie the game in the seventh, while Delaney Rummell launched the go-ahead solo home run in the seventh.
“I am proud of how the team fought today. We challenged them to step up our level of intensity after last night’s loss to Longwood” head coach Tryr Perry said. “The entire team stayed resilient in the face of adversity against a very strong Arkansas team.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
Arkansas grabbed an early lead in the bottom of the first inning after a leadoff walk came around to score on a throwing error. However, McQueen limited the damage and struck out three straight Razorbacks to end the first.
After threatening in the top of the second and shutting down the Razorback offense in the bottom half of the inning, Illinois responded in the top of the third. After a base hit by freshman Stevie Meade, Vickery launched a high drive to left-center field that just got over the outfield wall and out for a two-run home run, putting the Illini in the lead.
The Razorbacks tied the game back up in the bottom half of the third on a solo home run, but McQueen struck out the last Razorback batter to limit the damage and keep the game tied.
After singles for both teams in the fourth inning were stranded on base, Arkansas found a power stroke via a leadoff solo home run and a three-run bomb put the Razorbacks up 6-2 with two innings to play.
The Illini took no time off to respond to the big inning, as freshman Paige Berkmeyer singled and sophomore Megan Ward doubled to put runners on second and third with just one out. Then, Steiner doubled to left-center field and played Berkmeyer and Ward to bring the Illini within two.
After a Stevie Meade groundout and a Kailee Powell walk, Loya came to the plate and nearly launched a three-run home run to left field, but the ball bounced off the wall and Loya settled for a two-RBI double to knot the score at six heading into the final frame.
In the seventh, Rummell launched a solo home run deep to left-center field to put the Illini in the led for the first time since the third inning. After two quick outs and a Ward single, Steiner continued to rake against the Razorbacks, knocking in Ward to add an insurance run and move the score to 8-6 heading into the bottom of the seventh.
After the leadoff batter reached base in the bottom half of the seventh, the Illini got a quick lineout to right fielder Danielle Davis before a diving grab by Vickery saved multiple runs from scoring. After Arkansas reached base on a fielding error with two outs, Berkmeyer caught the Razorback runner trying to steal third base and ended the game in favor of the Illini.
RAZORBACK INVITATIONAL NOTES
- Illinois moved to 6-4 on the season following a 2-3 weekend at the Razorback Invitational.
- Illinois knocked off a top-15 opponent for the second straight Sunday, defeating #14/15 LSU last Sunday (2/13) and #10/10 Arkansas on 2/20.
- Illinois grabbed their first victory over a top-10 program since April 1, 2017, when the Illini defeated #6 Minnesota 4-3 at Eichelberger Field.
- The victory over #10 Arkansas marked the first road victory over a top-10 team since February 11, 2006, when Illinois defeated #10 Baylor.
- Redshirt sophomore Jaelyn Vickery went on a tear this weekend, going 8-for-16 with eight hits (three doubles, two home runs), four RBIs, and 17 total bases.
- Junior Delaney Rummell mashed three home runs on the weekend, nearly matching the total she had all of last season (four).
- Senior Avrey Steiner added nine hits on the weekend (two doubles), also driving in four runs for the Illini.
- Freshman Stevie Meade led the Illini in RBIs (five) this weekend and recorded her first-career home run.
- Graduate student Bella Loya hit her first round-tripper of the year at Arkansas on Sunday and knocked in three total RBIs.
- Sophomore Megan Ward tallied three RBIs this weekend, including two doubles and six hits overall.
- Senior right-hander Sydney Sickels pitched 21 innings this weekend, including two complete games against Western Illinois and Longwood.
- Sickels struck out 35 total batters this weekend and only allowed four walks, pitching to a 2.33 weekend ERA.
- Sickels tossed her second career no-hitter vs. Western Illinois on Saturday, allowing just one baserunner on a fielding error while striking out 16 Leatherneck batters.
- Sickels set a new Illinois single-game strikeout record, turning away 16 batters vs. Western Illinois on 2/19. She broke her previous record of 13 set twice before.
- Sophomore right-hander Tori McQueen struck out 15 batters this weekend, including a career-high 10 strikeouts at #10 Arkansas on Sunday.