27-22 (12-8 Big Ten) | 3rd Place Big Ten
Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan guided the Illini to yet another winning season while challenging the Orange and Blue with one of the most difficult schedules in Division-I softball during her 12th season at the helm of the Illinois program. The Illini wrapped up the season at 27-22 overall, while placing third among Big Ten teams with a 12-8 conference record - one of only four Big Ten programs to earn a winning mark this season.
In non-conference action, the Illini played 15 of their games against 12 different opponents who received votes for or were ranked among the top-25 teams in the nation by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association or USA Softball during at least one week of the 2011 season. The Orange and Blue secured key out-of-conference victories over Maryland, Fordham, Pittsburgh and Florida International during tournament play to bolster their standings. After falling behind to Maryland, 1-0, as the designated home team during a Citrus Classic match-up, Illinois rallied with three runs in the sixth inning to complete the comeback. The following day, Illinois tagged two-time All-American Jen Mineau, who went on the throw a perfect game during 2011, with three runs during her two innings of relief work. Fordham had rallied from down one run in the fifth inning and brought Mineau in to try to keep the score knotted at one and give the Rams' offense a chance to rally. In the sixth, Danielle Zymkowitz led off with a walk, stole second base and scored on an error by center fielder Lindsey Kay Bright. With Hollie Pinchback on second following the error and the Illini ahead, 2-1, Kelley Wedel singled in another run with a ground ball through the left side of the infield before Danielle Vaji tripled in Wedel to complete scoring in the 4-1 victory.
Illinois also found success against Illinois-based teams, finishing 5-3 against in-state opponents, including a doubleheader sweep over Big Ten rival Northwestern as well as World's Largest Softball Tailgate foe Western Illinois. The Illini also traveled to Southern Illinois for one contest on March 23, the final non-conference match before opening Big Ten competition, coming away victorious, 5-2.
The first win over Northwestern proved to be one of the most exhilarating games the Illini played during the 2011 slate as Illinois rallied from down a run in the final frame to come away with the victory. After falling behind, 2-0, in the second inning, the Illini rallied with three runs in the third inning to take their first lead of the day. Hollie Pinchback slugged the first of her two homers, a solo shot, and Kelley Wedel followed three batters later with a two-run bomb.
Northwestern immediately responded with two more runs in the top of the fourth to re-take the lead at 4-3, holding the advantage until the Orange and Blue batted in the bottom of the seventh. The Illini needed only two batters to come away with a walk-off win, as Zymkowitz singled up the middle before Pinchback sent a two-run homer over the center field fence.
The Orange and Blue surged to a tie for the top spot in the conference standings once Big Ten play began as Illinois jumped out to a 5-1 league mark with doubleheader sweeps of Michigan State and Ohio State as well as a series split with eventual NCAA Tournament-participant Penn State. Opening their home and Big Ten slate with a weekend series against the Spartans, the pitching duo of Pepper Gay and Jackie Guy combined to hold Michigan State to a .170 batting average while only allowing five runs, three earned, in 14 innings of work. Audrey Gallien paced the offense during the 6-3 and 3-2 victories with three doubles and two RBIs, while Jessica Davis went 2-for-4 with a double, two walks, two RBIs and a run scored.
After dropping the first contest, 4-2, to Penn State during the following weekend, Illinois responded with a resounding drubbing of the Nittany Lions, 12-2, in a mercy-rule shortened five-inning game to move to 3-1 in conference play. Zymkowitz, Pinchback, Meredith Hackett and Davis - the first four batters in the Illini lineup - finished 6-for-8 with eight RBIs, eight runs scored and four walks on the contest. Penn State's pitching duo of Lisa Akamine and Jackie Hill, both of whom opened the contest in the top three in the conference for batting average against, were no match for the Illini lineup as Akamine allowed three earned runs in 1 and 2/3 innings before Hill coughed up nine more in the final 2 and 1/3 innings of the contest.
The display of power from the offense continued during the next Big Ten series, at Ohio State. Davis paced the Illini bats as the Orange and Blue improved to 5-1 in conference play, tying with Michigan for the top spot in the conference. Davis finished the two-game slate with the Buckeyes going 4-for-5 with eight RBIs and six runs scored on four home runs and three walks. Davis reached base in 87.5 percent of the Zephyrhills, Fla., native's plate appearances, while her four homers secured her an unheard of 3.200 series slugging percentage.
Following a difficult stretch of contests against No.-2 Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, Illinois bounced back with seven victories in its final nine contests, including wins in five of six Big Ten games. During the concluding stretch of the season, Illinois dropped Northwestern, 5-4 and 5-3, traveled to Iowa to soundly defeat the Hawkeyes, 8-2 and 6-2, during a midweek doubleheader, swept Western Illinois, 3-2 and 2-0 and split at Minnesota - taking the first contest, 2-0, in nine innings before falling in the season finale, 3-2.