For the eighth time in program history and the fourth under head coach Tyra Perry, the Illinois softball team earned a berth into the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Staff Writer
May 15, 2022
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Welcome to a version of the Braggin’ Rights NCAA softball regional.
The Illinois softball team will be sent to a rival for its first NCAA regional appearance since 2019 as the Illini (34-20) were selected to the Columbia Regional, hosted by the No. 15 overall seed Missouri and will face Arizona (33-20) on Friday, May 20 at 3:30 p.m. CST in the opening round at Mizzou Softball Stadium. The double-elimination regional will be held on Friday-Sunday, with host Missouri facing Missouri State at 1 p.m. CST on Friday.
This NCAA selection marks the eighth time in program history for Illinois and half of those selections are under head coach Tyra Perry, who reached the career mark of 600 wins earlier this season.
The Illini have never advanced out of a NCAA regional but have advanced to the regional final twice in program history, falling to No. 3 seed LSU in the Waco, Texas Regional in 2004 and No. 14 seed Kentucky in the Lexington Regional in 2017.
On March 16, Missouri (36-20) took both games of a doubleheader at Illinois’ Eichelberger Field in Urbana (7-6 in eight innings, 10-2 in five innings - run rule). Missouri made a run this weekend to the championship game of the 2022 Southeastern Conference Tournament and will be hosting a NCAA regional for the second consecutive season. Missouri leads the all-time Braggin' Rights series versus Illinois by a 12-4 margin, starting the series on a five-game winning streak before Illinois won their first game against the Tigers in 2014.
The 2022 version of the Illini took wins against No. 14 LSU and No. 10 Arkansas in non-conference play. The 8-6 win at Arkansas on Feb. 20 was Illinois' first win over a top-10 program they defeated No. 6 Minnesota in 2017, and the ninth overall top-10 win in program history. Illinois finished the 2022 season with 10 of its wins against teams selected for the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
Illinois is led by first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection second baseman Avrey Steiner. Steiner earned her second career All-Big Ten honor after being named Second Team All-Big Ten last season. The Fowler, Ohio native led the Big Ten in hits this season with 73, and also ranked seventh in the conference with a team-leading .390 batting average. In the pitching circle, senior Sydney Sickels set a new career-high in strikeouts (186), good for sixth in the conference, and recording a sub-2.00 ERA for the first time in her career (1.98). Sickels also ranked third in the conference in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.32) and strikeouts-per-seven innings (9.4), while ranking second in the conference in saves with four on the season.
Under Perry’s leadership, the one time Illinois has won its opening game in NCAA regional play (2019) is the only time the Illini have advanced to a regional final.
In its last action, Illinois lost 5-1 to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal on Thursday afternoon after the Buckeyes built an early 4-0 lead due to three fielding errors with two outs in the third inning.
“There’s not much to say. This game is played a certain way and those balls were routine at best. We’ve just got to get a little tougher,” Perry said on the Big Ten Network in-game broadcast during the conference tournament.
Illinois is 0-3 all-time against Arizona but haven’t faced the traditional national power since 2009. The Wildcats' postseason appearance marks Arizona's 35th straight selection, which is the longest active streak and the NCAA Softball record. Arizona has been invited to postseason play every season since 1987, former head coach Mike Candrea's second year on campus.
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