Throughout the Maryland softball team’s up-and-down season, the team has been able to rely on its pitching staff. Starters Ryan Denhart (2.49 ERA) and Sydney Golden (3.35 ERA) have formed the Terps’ best duo in the circle since 2011.

But this weekend, the hurlers will face one of their toughest tests of the year against Illinois.

The Fighting Illini are batting .323 as a team, which leads the Big Ten and ranks 15th in the country. They have seven players hitting over .300 and are the only team in the conference scoring more than six runs per game.

“They’re really aggressive with strikes,” coach Julie Wright said. “If hitters are attacking strikes early in the count, then they’re going to have really good opportunities to hit the ball well.”

[Read more: Clean fielding has pushed Maryland softball to its surprising 5-1 Big Ten start]

Maryland’s staff has allowed just six runs total during the team’s current five-game winning streak, including two shutouts. In five games before this stretch, the team gave up 29 runs.

So the Terps have gained confidence entering the heart of Big Ten play despite struggling in the conference over the past two years. Last season, the team went 4-19 in the Big Ten.

Denhart said having the entire pitching rotation in a groove, rather than just one pitcher, has added to Maryland’s sense of positivity. Catcher Anna Kufta felt the same way.

“The pitchers are just attacking everything,” Kufta said. “They owned everything they had this weekend and just attacked both sides of the plate.”

While the five-game winning streak has marked growth over previous campaigns, the victories came against Penn State and Iowa — two teams not expected to compete near the top of the Big Ten this season.

Illinois (22-13, 3-4 Big Ten) is the seventh team Maryland (15-20, 5-1 Big Ten) plays that’s ranked in the top 50 nationally in batting average. The Terps went 1-8 against the other six, allowing 66 runs and getting run-ruled three times.

Those struggles could spell trouble for Maryland this weekend.

“They’re very good hitters [at Illinois],” Denhart said. “We’re just going to have to throw our pitches, try to get mishits and rely on the defense instead of trying to strike them out.”

Wright hopes to use the varied strengths of her pitchers to attack Illinois’ offense. So far in this campaign, the coach has leaned heavily on Golden, a drop-ball pitcher who induces ground balls, and Denhart, who relies on mixing her locations and speeds to put hitters off-balance.

They’ll need to be at their best against Illinois this weekend to continue their hot start to their Big Ten slate.

“Illinois is well-trained, they’ve got a great coaching staff.” Wright said, “so it’s going to be a fun and challenging weekend for us.”