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NCAA Softball: First look at Illinois, Arizona’s first postseason opponent

arizona-wildcats-softball-ncaa-tournament-preview-illinois-fighting-illini-missouri-big-ten Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you were trying to create a team that is the exact opposite of the Arizona Wildcats, it would probably turn out a lot like the Illinois Fighting Illini softball team. Like stolen bases? Prefer doubles to home runs? Illinois is your team.

The two teams will face off on Friday at 1:30 p.m. MST on ESPN+. What should Arizona expect?

The Illini have stolen 76 bases in 98 attempts this season. Both Avrey Steiner and Kelly Ryono have swiped at least 10 bases this season, and Illinois has three others who have at least eight stolen bases. Compare that to Arizona’s 22 stolen bases in 30 attempts. Almost half of those stolen bags belong to Jasmine Perezchica who has 10 in 13 attempts. No other Wildcat has more than four.

Arizona has four players with double-digit home runs led by Allie Skaggs with 22. Illinois has one. Delaney Rummell has exactly 10. That’s not to say that Illinois can’t go for extra bases, though. The Illini have 93 doubles compared to 55 for the Wildcats.

Both teams have two pitchers with double-digit wins, but both of the Illini’s pitchers have ERAs around 2.00. Sydney Sickels sports a 1.97 ERA and 0.98 WHIP while teammate Tori McQueen sits at 2.38 and 1.05.

Arizona’s best ERA comes from little-used Jessie Fontes with a 3.04. Her WHIP is 1.08, but she likely will see only a few innings if she pitches at all. Fontes has only pitched 27.2 innings this season, although she has seen more time towards the end of the season.

The Wildcats rely a lot on Hanah Bowen who has a 4.10 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 107.2 innings pitched, but it is Devyn Netz who has been the team’s top pitcher this season. She has the best ERA of the pitchers who regularly play at 3.90 and has pitched the most innings (113). Her WHIP is 1.38, which is also tops for the three pitchers who have pitched most of Arizona’s innings this year.

While the Wildcats have the better offense and the Illini have better pitching, neither team would appear to have an upper hand on defense. Although Arizona committed five errors over the final series of the regular season, the Wildcats still have a team fielding percentage of .962. That comes fairly close to the .965 team fielding percentage of Illinois.

Both teams lost 20 games this season. The biggest difference is what they did in conference play. While Arizona ended up 8-16 in the Pac-12, Illinois was 15-7 in the Big Ten. As a result, the Illini ended up at 34 in the RPI and Arizona landed at 42.