When Maryland softball played Illinois in April, the Terps lost all three games of the series by a combined score of 38-3.
On Thursday, the Terps will have a rematch with the Fighting Illini, facing them in their first game of the Big Ten tournament.
While Illinois utterly dominated in the series, coach Julie Wright feels that her squad has matured and developed since then.
“We did not play well against them in our regular-season series. We’re looking forward to that challenge,” Wright said. “Our team is ready. We’re playing much better ball than we were then.”
After struggling to score for much of Big Ten play, the Terps offense woke up in the team’s last two series. Despite being swept both weekends, Maryland scored 33 runs over the six games against Ohio State and Michigan State.
“We’re swinging the bats much better than we were in that series,” Wright said. “We also know Illinois much better now.”
Illinois’ pitching staff hasn’t been its strength this season. The Illini’s top two pitchers, Emily Oestreich and Taylor Edwards, both have middling ERAs and unimpressive walk and strikeout totals. Illinois has won games behind its offense, which hit a conference-best .323 and topped the Big Ten with 344 runs.
However, the Illini enter the tournament on a hot streak — both overall and in the circle. The Illini have won 11 of their past 13 games, allowing five or more runs in a game only three times in that stretch.
“Our pitching is starting to step up and come around a little bit,” Illinois coach Tyra Perry said.
The Terps, meanwhile, are on a nine-game losing streak. But Wright said she feels her team has made progress throughout the year, despite most of its 18 wins coming early in the season.
“Everybody’s new on our pitching staff, and pretty much throughout our team,” Wright said. “Getting used to the Big Ten was something that will be helpful for us.”
This is the first time the Terps have made the Big Ten tournament since 2015. Right-hander Sydney Golden is the only Maryland player with postseason experience, having pitched in the NCAA tournament with Cal State Fullerton.
That only adds to the Terps’ excitement, Wright said.
“We’re a young group, a new group,” Wright said. “They’re excited to have gotten themselves in this position given all of our challenges this year. They’re going to come out and play hard. We’re really looking forward to getting out there and getting after it.”