Ah, Memorial Day Weekend. The start of summer and warmer weather. Well, that last one we're still waiting for. With the Fighting Illini baseball team bowing out of the Big Ten Tournament in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the sports season at the University of Illinois is also history. The spring sports season was not one that will set any records, but it was also more productive than they have been in the past. To kind of catch everyone up to date, the women's softball team finished their season below the .500 mark, ending at 30-32 with a 9-1 loss to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament at Northwestern University in Evanston. The Illini finished the Big Ten portion of their season at 8-12, which is a down year for coach Terri Sullivan. The Illini grabbed a quick 1-0 lead in the game, only to see the Hawkeyes come back and score 9 unanswered runs for the lopsided win.
The Illini baseball team finished their season much better in the wins column, as they racked up 31 victories against just 25 losses. Their Big Ten mark was 16-15, which was good enough to earn them a berth in the aforementioned Big Ten Tourney. Their first opponent was the Ohio State Buckeyes this past Wednesday, and the Illini came out on top 3-2. That win gave them an opportunity to play the host school, #17 Michigan, and the Wolverines sent the Illini to the losers' bracket with a 5-2 defeat. In a double elimination tournament, you get another chance to redeem yourself by winning out, and the Illini faced the Indiana Hoosiers on Friday in a must-win contest. The Illini fell behind early, but came back to make it close, but they just couldn't get over the hump in falling to the Hoosiers 14-7, thus ending their season. The Illini placed 5 players on Big Ten all-conference teams, with centerfielder Kyle Hudson, second baseman Joe Bonnadonna, shortstop Brandon Wikoff, and designated hitter Daniel Webb garnering second team honors. Starting pitcher Kevin Manson, who pitched the Illini to the victory over the Buckeyes in the tournament opener, received third team honors. Now, the big decision facing Hudson is whether or not to turn pro or come back and complete his final season as a member of the Illini football team. Hudson is sure to be drafted in the Major League Baseball draft, which takes place on June 5 and 6. The main question now is, whether he should wait another year and possibly increase his resume even more to warrant a higher draft selection. Only time will tell, but that time is drawing near.
Every 10 years, the University of Illinois plays host to the Big Ten outdoor track and field conference championships, and this year was the Illini's turn to host. Now that the Big Ten Network is here, many more people were able to see the meet, and from what I saw of it on television, the track stadium looked mighty good on the national scene. Gakologelwang Masheto led the Illini runners by placing second in two events, the 400 meters and also competing in the 4 X 400 meter relay team. As a team, the Illini men finished ninth overall with 59 points, 19 of them contributed by Masheto himself. On the women's side, a much better result, as Brianna Cunningham won the 400 meter hurdles, while Angela Bizzarri was runner-up in the 5000 meters. The women brought home a fourth place showing in the meet.
Since we are at the beginning of summer, thoughts have begun to turn towards football season, and what will happen as a follow-up to the very successful Rose Bowl season of 2007. The stadium reconstruction is coming along nicely, and a drive by on Florida Avenue will give you a totally different view of the new pressbox, standing proudly high atop a refurbished stadium. The 2008 opener is scheduled for August 30 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri against the Missouri Tigers. The game will be televised in prime time on ESPN at 6:45 pm central time, meaning that the nation will get an early look at Coach Ron Zook and his football squad.
Two other games at Memorial Stadium have start times for the upcoming season, the homecoming game on October 11 against Minnesota (11:00 am), and the following Saturday, the 18th of October, another prime time start against Indiana (7:00 pm). For some, the season cannot start soon enough.