Softball Opens 2013 Season at UNI Dome Tournament

Pepper Gay was named Preseason First Team All-Big Ten by College Sports Madness
Pepper Gay was named Preseason First Team All-Big Ten by College Sports Madness

 UNI Dome Tournament - Feb. 8-10, 2013 - Cedar Falls, Iowa
Game 1: No. 1 Alabama Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 | 3 p.m. CT | GameTracker | Alabama Radio
Game 2: North Dakota State  Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 | 9 a.m. CT | LiveStats
Game 3: Drake Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 | 11 a.m. CT | LiveStats
Game 4: Green Bay Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 | Noon CT | LiveStats
Game 5: Northern Iowa Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 | 2 p.m. CT | LiveStats
Printable Game Notes Illinois
Tickets Admission is $5 for general public and free for children 12 and under. Call 319-273-4849 for tickets.
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Tournament Tidbits
Taking On Champions: The Illini will face three 2012 conference champions this weekend. The top-ranked Crimson Tide won the SEC regular season and tournament titles before claiming the Women's College World Series title. Illinois will face 2012 Summit League regular season and tournament champion North Dakota State in game two, then take on MVC regular-season champion Northern Iowa in the final game. Game three features Drake, who finished close behind UNI in third in the MVC; the Orange and Blue will also face second-place Illinois State later in the year.

Fresh Faces: Three of Illinois' five opponents are new to the Orange and Blue. Illinois has never played North Dakota State, Green Bay or Northern Iowa. The Illini are 0-3 against Alabama and 2-0 against Drake, but no current players have faced either, with the most recent matchup coming on Feb. 23, 2008, against Alabama.

First Time Indoors: This weekend's tournament marks the first time in Illinois history that the Illini will play a sanctioned competition indoors. The Orange and Blue have plenty of experience playing inside, however, practicing regularly throughout the winter at the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility.

UNI Dome Tournament History: This weekend's tournament is the 20th softball tournament to be played at the UNI Dome. Northern Iowa hosted the tournament every year from 1984-95, and again in 1997. After a 10-year hiatus, the Panthers reinstated the tournament in 2007, where they have opened every season since.

Facing No. 1: Illinois opens 2013 against No. 1 Alabama. Illinois is 0-8 against the top-ranked team, most-recently facing a No. 1 team three times in 2008. The Orange and Blue dropped a pair of games to No. 1 Alabama, 0-6 and 0-2, on Feb. 22-23, then fell to No. 1 Arizona State, 2-7, on Mar. 20.

The Illini's best game against a top-ranked team came on Apr. 3, 2005, at Michigan. Trailing 8-3 heading into the seventh, the Orange and Blue scored four runs on two outs, highlighted by a 3-run homer by Shanna Diller, but could not complete the comeback, falling 8-7.

The highest ranked team that could not defeat Illinois was No. 4 Oklahoma, who tied the Illini, 2-2, on Feb. 8, 2004, in the LSU Tiger Classic Championship game. The following season, the Orange and Blue defeated their highest ranked opponent to date, No.5 LSU, 5-3, on Feb. 12, 2005, in Las Vegas.

Illinois Has Tough 2013 Slate
Illinois has a tough task ahead, with eight non-conference games against opponents ranked in the top 25 in both the NFCA and preseason polls. Illinois opens the season against No. 1 Alabama. The Orange and Blue play a pair of games against No. 7/9 Texas in Houston, then square off with No. 3 California and No. 16 Washington the following weekend in Palm Springs. One week later, Illinois plays at No. 12/10 USF, before playing a neutral-site doubleheader in Saint Louis against No 8/7 Missouri on March 20.

In addition to the six ranked opponents, Illinois will face seven teams that received votes from the NFCA, four of which also received votes in the poll.

Of Illinois' 34 scheduled opponents, 14 qualified for the 2012 NCAA Tournament, six participated in Super Regionals and three advanced to the Women's College World Series (Alabama, California, USF). Additionally, `Bama and Cal finished the year #1 and #2 in the RPI, with a total of 13 Illinois opponents clocking in in the top 50.

Pepper Gay Named Preseason All-Big Ten
Senior pitcher Pepper Gay was named to the Big Ten Preseason All-Conference First Team by Gay is one of three pitchers on the 12-player team. Teammate Jessica Davis was named to the inaugural second team last season.

The Avondale Estates, Ga., native is poised to complete her career as the most decorated pitcher in Illinois history. A 2012 NFCA All-Region selection and two-time All-Big Ten honoree, Gay enters her final season with the best career opponent batting average in program history (.214), ranked second in career strikeouts (463), wins (58), saves (6) and complete games (46), and third in ERA (2.07), shutouts (14) and innings pitched (526.2).