Illinois was nearly out of the inning. Despite two misplays in the field, the Fighting Illini only found themselves trailing by three in the fourth. When Jaeda McFarland tapped a ground ball to one of Illinois’ top players, Big Ten first-teamer Avrey Steiner, the Terps’ rally looked like it would come to an end.

But the ball skipped under Steiner’s glove, driving in another run for the Terps and keeping the inning alive. The next batter, Mackense Greico smashed a ball to left field, clearing the fence for a two-run home run and a six-run lead.

Maryland softball (34-16, 9-11 Big Ten) capitalized on the error to notch a five-run fourth inning and coast to a 6-2 series-opening victory over Illinois (28-24, 6-14 Big Ten) in a must-win game for the Terps on Friday.

Heading into the weekend series, coach Mark Montgomery thought that Maryland needed to potentially sweep Illinois in order to have a chance at an NCAA tournament bid. The squad started the series off with the sense of urgency their coach wanted.

[Struggles with Big Ten foes could keep Maryland softball out of the postseason]

Maryland has struggled all year to string together two out base-hits. They did exactly that in the second inning though, as the bottom of the lineup delivered. Three straight singles by Michaela Jones, Sammi Woods and Megan Mikami put the Terps up 1-0.

When McFarland led off with a single and a steal, it looked like the third inning was going to be another solid inning for the offense. Yet, three straight outs kept the Teps’ advantage at one.

Courtney Wyche picked up the offense’s slack early though, as she has all season. Her emotion on the mound was evident throughout the game as the senior threw five innings of shutout ball and got the run support she had been lacking nearly all season.

Wyche struck out five hitters while allowing seven hits and two runs to Illinois in another strong effort.

Multiple mishandles by Illinois’ defense in the top of the fourth opened the floodgates for Maryland’s five-run inning.

The bottom of the lineup provided the spark for the Terps. Jones walked after Madison Runyan led the inning off with a single, giving Maryland runners on first and second with no outs.

[Contributions from celebrated seniors kept Maryland softball in NCAA tournament contention]

Montgomery called for a double steal, but Runyan was thrown out at third. It looked like Maryland was going to squander another scoring opportunity, but Woods laced a single up the middle to put the Terps up 2-0.

Woods’ RBI was going to be a close play at the plate, but Illinois catcher Paige Berkmeyer mishandled the throw from center field, allowing Jones to score easily. Berkmeyer struggled to receive a pitch in the dirt soon after, allowing the Terps to score another run on a wild pitch.

Poor defense leads to big innings for the other team. After a Steiner’s fielding error allowed Kiley Goff to score, Greico blew the game open.

A two-run opposite field bomb from the senior made it 6-0 to the Terps and punished the Fighting Illini for their mistakes. Greico notched her second consecutive conference game with a home run.

Illinois added two runs in the sixth, but it was too little too late.

The six runs was all Wyche needed to pick up the win, as Montgomery’s squad rode the strong fourth inning to a four-run victory.

Maryland will return to action against Illinois on Saturday, where it’ll look to keep its momentum going against Illinois and claw its way into postseason play.