When Illinois first baseman Bella Loya lifted a deep fly ball to right field in the sixth inning of the No. 6-seed Illini’s first-round Big Ten tournament game against the Maryland softball team, the No. 11 Terps seemed on the verge of a significant upset.
But Maryland right fielder Destiney Henderson misjudged the ball, breaking in before backpedaling to try to make the play.
Henderson couldn’t get there in time, turning what could’ve been the first out of the inning into a game-tying triple.
The Illini added two more runs in the frame on a passed ball and groundout, earning a 5-3 come-from-behind win as the Terps’ defense coughed up the lead and cost the team a chance at their first Big Ten tournament victory.
“We can deal with one error,” left fielder Amanda Brashear said. “We can’t deal with it when we start tumbling on defense.”
Maryland had been in control since the third inning, when its offense capitalized on an error from the Illini with a two-run double from first baseman Jacqui Pascual to take a 2-1 lead. The Terps added another unearned run in the fourth, putting them up by two.
“We just had high energy all game,” Brashear said. “Our mentality was, if we come out and play our game, it’s going to be a tough game against us. …We were just trying to attack any ball on the plate. We were taking pitches last time, so today anything on the plate we were hacking at.”
It was a stark difference from the games the team’s regular-season series, when Illinois swept the Terps and outscored them, 38-3, across the three games.
Maryland starter Sydney Golden was cruising through the Illini lineup, setting down nine batters in a row and allowing one hit and one unearned run over the first four innings.
“The Sydney Golden Illinois saw in the regular season is not the Sydney Golden that we know on a daily basis,” coach Julie Wright said.
Illinois began to rally in the fifth, though, using a pair of singles to make it a one-run game. First baseman Brigette Nordberg kept Maryland ahead by throwing out third baseman Sam Acosta trying to score on an infield single.
But in the next inning — as they did many times this year — the Terps made key miscues that, this time, ended their season for good. After a leadoff walk, Wright replaced Golden with right-hander Ryan Denhart, and Loya greeted her with the misplayed triple to right field.
A passed ball gave the Illini their first lead since it was up 1-0. They added an insurance run on a ground ball to Nordberg, whose throw to the plate wasn’t accurate enough for catcher Anna Kufta to make a tag in time, giving Illinois its fourth run the Terps could’ve prevented.
“Illinois is a great hitting team and that was going to be their third time around,” Wright said. “Between this game and the regular season they had seen Sydney a lot … We thought Ryan brought in a different look. I think it was a good call that didn’t quite work out.”
Maryland went down in order in the seventh to end its season, but the team had chances to score in the earlier innings. The Terps went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine runners. They matched Illinois with five hits, but the Illini capitalized on Maryland’s mistakes for a first-round comeback victory.
“Defense was not our strength this year,” Wright said. “That’ll be something we’re working to improve and strengthen. There were some miscues and we sort of got ourselves into those kind of situations today and all year long.”