Illinois Kicks Off 2014 at Rosemont Rumble
Opening Indoors: Illinois begins the season with an indoor tournament for the second straight year, after kicking off the 2013 campaign at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Illini are accustomed to the lighting and bounces of indoor turf, as the Orange and Blue practice at the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility whenever weather necessitates.
The Dome at the Ballpark: Owned and operated by the Village of Rosemont, the Dome at the Ballpark is a 140,000 square-foot facility located just down the street from MB Financial Park at 34 Jennie Finch Way. The facility features two diamonds, with outfield fences of 210' down the lines and 220' to center field, and a 75' ceiling, and is the indoor stadium for the Chicago Bandits professional fast-pitch softball team, which Illinois alum Danielle Zymkowitz plays for.
Scouting the Field: The Fighting Illini hold a 32-7 all-time record against the weekend's competition, featuring local teams from the region, including three teams from the state of the Illinois. The Orange and Blue defeated co-host Loyola, 3-2, in nine innings, but fell to Eastern Illinois, 12-1, last season. The Illini have not faced IUPUI since 2003, when they won 2-0.
After playing one of the most difficult schedules in the nation in 2013, the Fighting Illini have another tough task ahead this season.
Illinois will play 20 games against teams that participated in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, including three of the eight WCWS qualifiers (Tennessee, Michigan, Nebraska).
The Illini will face seven teams that are ranked in the NFCA and ESPN.com preseason polls, including No. 1 Tennessee, as well as an additional five teams that are receiving votes.
According to the final RPI of 2013, the Illini will play three top-10 teams, seven from the top 25, and 15 of the top 50.
Throughout non-conference play, the Illini will face teams from 18 different leagues in addition to the Big Ten, playing the most against members of the Summit League (North Dakota State, Nebraska-Omaha, IUPUI). Eight of these opponents will be playing their first season in a new conference.
Of their 56 regular-season games, just 17 will be played at Eichelberger Field, while the remaining 39 will take place away from home.
The Illini have a very challenging Big Ten draw, taking on all five teams that finished ahead of them in the 2013 standings, including regular-season champion Michigan (H) and Big Ten Tournament champion Wisconsin (A).
2013 SEASON AT A GLANCE
The 2013 softball season was full of ups and downs, as the Illini took on an incredibly difficult slate and demonstrated tremendous resilience down the stretch. Illinois opened the season in Iowa against defending National Champion Alabama, and proceeded to go 3-2 on the weekend with a win over 2013 Summit League Champion North Dakota State and a no-hitter against 2013 MVC Tournament victor host UNI. The Illini continued to face top competition throughout the non-conference tournaments, seeing teams such as No. 6 Texas, No. 22 Washington, No. 8 California and No. 19 Kentucky.
The Illini opened at Eichelberger Field in style, hosting the first-ever Fighting Illini Classic on March 15-16. The Orange and Blue swept the tournament, capturing wins over 2013 Horizon League Co-Champion Loyola, Saint Louis and Western Michigan. Illinois snagged its first extra-inning victory in the home opener, topping Loyola in the bottom of the ninth.
Illinois struggled at the start of conference play, digging itself into a huge hole at 1-11 through April 14. Their lone victory, however, was an exciting come-from-behind win over then-No. 24 Nebraska, who would go on to play in the 2013 Women's College World Series and finished the year ranked No. 8 in both polls.
Directly after a demoralizing nine-game losing streak, Jessica Davis hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth on April 20 to lead the Illini past Indiana, 5-4, and begin a season-changing 10-game winning streak to pull the Illini all the way from last to sixth in the Big Ten standings. The winning streak included nine Big Ten victories and had games on both sides of the spectrum: three run-rule victories and two in extra innings. The Illini finished out the 2013 regular season on an 11-1 run, winning their final four Big Ten series, including three sweeps, to earn a favorable seed for the Big Ten Tournament.
ILLINI EARN FOUR 2013 BIG TEN POSTSEASON HONORS
Alex Booker was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team, and she and second baseman Jami Schkade were named to the first-ever Big Ten All-Defensive Team. Illinois was one of just two teams to claim more than one spot on the All-Defensive squad. Additionally, Jenna Mychko received the Illini's Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.
Booker had a fantastic season for the Illini on both offense and defense, leading the Orange and Blue at the plate with a .352 batting average and registering a .427 on base percentage. The speed demon stole 20 bases on just 21 attempts, becoming the third Illini in school history to tab 20 swipes in a single season, while tying for second with a .952 efficiency. The Gurnee, Ill., native put together a team-best 51 hits, 33 runs, 13 RBI, five doubles, a triple and 18 walks, while recording three sacrifice bunts.
Booker was outstanding in left field, recording the most fielding chances in the Big Ten without making an error, tallying 87 putouts and seven outfield assists. In addition to the conference coaches, CollegeSportsMadness.com also named Booker to its All-Big Ten Second Team.
Schkade joined Booker on the Big Ten All-Defensive Team after playing flawless defense in the middle infield throughout conference play. The Albany, Texas, native was the only Big Ten primary infielder with a 1.000 fielding percentage in conference play. She made 31 putouts and 23 assists during Big Ten play, helping to turn a pair of Illini double plays.
DOMINATING ON THE BASE PATHS
The Fighting Illini's run game was exceptional in 2013, ranking 49th in the nation as a team, with an average of 1.39 stolen bases per game. Not only did they steal often, but the Illini were efficient, ranking third in the Big Ten with just 10 runners caught.
Alex Booker ranked fifth in the Big Ten and 72nd in the nation with 20-of-21 swipes, and Kylie Johnson was ninth in the conference, stealing 18 of 23. Additionally, Booker ranked fourth with eight stolen bases in conference play.
Booker's speed on the base paths ranked her among the best in Illinois history. She is one of just three Illini ever to steal 20 bases in a season and tied for second with her .952 efficiency. Johnson placed ninth all-time with her 18 swipes. With her final season still to come, Booker sits in seventh all-time in career stolen bases (32) and in fifth in SB% (.821).
On the other side of the plate, the Illini battery kept its opponents honest, throwing out 17 runners, including a conference-best nine in Big Ten play. Jenna Mychko and Linnea Detrick each threw out six runners. Despite only seeing action in seven Big Ten games, Detrick ranked fourth in the conference with all six runners caught coming in Big Ten play.
Alex Booker was a huge jump-start for the Illini offense all season long. In 27 starts at leadoff, she reached base as the first batter of the game 13 times with nine hits, three walks and an error. She led the Illini at the plate all season long, hitting .352 with a .427 on base percentage. She ranked fifth in the Big Ten in stolen bases, going 20-for-21 on the year, and became just the third Illini in school history to steal 20 bases in a season. Additionally, her .952 efficiency is tied for the second highest ever at Illinois.
The junior left fielder moved to the three hole on April 20 for the Indiana series, where she proceeded to go 6-for-9 with a 1.000 slugging percentage. She was a home run shy of the cycle in the first game, slugging her first career triple, and stole two bases on the weekend. Booker kept it going against Iowa, going 3-for-7 with a walk, two runs and two RBI. She extended her hitting streak to a team-best 10 games at MSU, before it ended in a game where she hardly saw a pitch to hit, walking three times.
ARNOLD EARNS BIG TEN PITCHER OF THE WEEK
Sophomore hurler Shelese Arnold was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week on April 22 after throwing back-to-back two-hit shutouts against Indiana to lead the Illini to a sweep of the Hoosiers.
Arnold was nearly flawless in the circle, holding the Hoosiers to just four hits and two walks in 13 innings of scoreless play. She got the start in game two of the series, and despite the offense mustering just one run--which didn't come until the sixth inning--her outstanding composure in the circle allowed the Illini to hold on for a 1-0 victory.
The Lexington, Tenn., resident continued to dominate in the series finale, retiring the first two batters of every inning and allowing just three two-out baserunners. The Illini bats exploded in the final game of the series, cutting Arnold's start short in the 8-0 run-rule victory.
In 13 innings in the circle, Arnold allowed just four hits, two walks and a hit batter. No Indiana runner advanced past second base, and the Hoosiers never had more than one runner on base in any given inning.
BAUCH EARNS BIG TEN FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
For the second straight week, a member of the Fighting Illini earned a weekly award on April 29, as second baseman Allie Bauch was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Bauch hit .412 with a double, six RBI, four runs and two stolen bases to lead the Illini to a perfect, 5-0 week.
The first-year player started all five games as the designated player, then moved to second base in the middle innings when Katie Repole would replace 2B Jami Schkade in the lineup for offensive purposes. The Schaumburg, Ill., native had two hits, an RBI and scored twice in the doubleheader sweep at Iowa on April 23. She stole a base and scored in the first game of the Michigan State series, then went 3-for-3 with three RBI in game two. She finished out the weekend hitting 2-for-4 with a double, a run and two RBI in the series finale.
FLAWLESS IN THE FIELD
The Fighting Illini defense was solid all season, finishing third in the conference by making just 54 errors on the year and ranking fourth in Big Ten play with a .967 fielding percentage. Just 11 Big Ten student-athletes managed to hang on to a 1.000 fielding percentage after having at least 20 chances in the field -- four of them were Illini, with Alex Booker leading the charge with 94 flawless plays out in left field. Linnea Detrick was perfect in 46 chances behind the plate, and Kylie Johnson and Jade Smith rounded out a perfect outfield with 32 and 29 chances apiece. Additionally, Jami Schkade was the only Big Ten infielder to earn a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in conference play, leading to her Big Ten All-Defensive Team selection.
WE'RE GOING STREAKING!
The Fighting Illini went on a 10-game winning streak from April 20 to May 3, which included nine conference victories, in order to claim the sixth seed for the Big Ten Tournament. It was the fifth time in school history that the Illini tallied a double-digit winning streak and is tied for the third-longest winning streak in program history. The Illini won a school-record 12 games in a row at the end of the 2010 regular season, one of two 10+ game winning streaks that year.
Longest Illinois Winning Streaks
The Illini's nine-game Big Ten winning streak is second only to the 13-straight conference games the Illini won to finish out the 2010 season. The Illini won the first two Big Ten matchups of 2011 for a total of 15-straight conference wins across the two seasons.
Longest Big Ten Winnings Streaks
The Illinois defense stepped up its game against Wisconsin, turning four double plays during the series, including a school-record-tying three DP in the first game on March 22. The Illini put together a total of 19 double plays, ranking fourth in the Big Ten and 39th in the nation. Moreover, they turned nine DP in Big Ten play, which ranked third.
ILLINOIS FACED TOUGH 2013 SCHEDULE
Illinois had a tough task in 2013, with 11 scheduled games against opponents that were ranked in the final NFCA and ESPN.com polls. According to the NCAA SOS rankings, the Illini played the 29th-most difficult schedule--even without getting to play the doubleheader vs. #10 Missouri. Prior to the NCAA Tournament, that mark was at #19 and it was as high as #4 in the nation at the start of April. The Illini played nine games against teams that were ranked at the time of the game, picking up a come-from-behind win on March 30 against WCWS-bound No. 24 Nebraska.
In total, the Illini scheduled games against 13 teams who made the 2013 NCAA Tournament, six of whom advanced to the Super Regionals, and played three of the eight Women's College World Series teams, against whom they went 1-5 with a victory over Nebraska.
The Illini went 2-1 against regular-season conference champions (EIU, Loyola, NDSU), and no-hit the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champion UNI Panthers.
Illinois was set to face seven teams who were ranked in the final poll, including four in the top 10. The Orange and Blue planned to play six of the top 12 teams in the final RPI, taking down #11 Nebraska, and captured five victories over teams that finished the year in the top 50. In addition to facing tough competition, the Illini took care of business against weaker teams, going 15-3 against teams that finished outside the top 100.