Sophomore Katie Lutes and the Illini play five games at the NFCA Leadoff Classic this weekend.
Feb. 25, 2010
Friday, Feb. 26
Game 11: Illinois (9-1) vs. #22 Florida State (11-1), 12:30 p.m. CT / 1:30 p.m. ET
Game 12: Illinois vs. Mississippi Valley State (3-4), 3 p.m. CT / 4 p.m. ET
Saturday, Feb. 27
Game 13: Illinois vs. Radford (0-0), 12:30 p.m. CT / 1:30 p.m. ET
Game 14: Illinois vs. Virginia Tech (4-5), 5:30 p.m. CT / 6:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, Feb. 28
Game 15: Illinois vs. Arkansas (5-4), 9 a.m. CT / 10 a.m. ET
Livestats: All five games will be on fightingillini.com Gametracker
...8-0 in 2010 at neutral sites
...5-0 when scoring six or more runs
...5-0 when scoring in the first inning
Illini Head to NFCA Leadoff Classic: Illinois heads southeast to Columbus, Ga. this weekend for the NFCA Leadoff Classic, an annual tournament hosted by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. The Illini also participated in the Leadoff Classic in the 2006 season. A total of 23 teams will play a round-robin tournament over the weekend on six different fields at the South Commons Stadium and Complex.
Great Start: Illinois is off to a 9-1 start to the 2010 season, matching the best start in program history. The Orange and Blue also began 2003 with a 9-1 record, but lost their next game. The Illini's lone loss so far has come on the road to #11 Stanford, as they have three more wins than any other team in the Big Ten.
Receiving Votes: Illinois is just outside the top-25 in the latest USA Today/NFCA poll, as the first team receiving votes. The Illini received 43 votes this week after their fantastic 9-1 start to the season. The Illini were last ranked in the top-25 in 2004, when they finished the year at No. 17.
Georgia Homecoming: Three Illini return to their home state this weekend for the NFCA Leadoff Classic, expecting to have numerous family and friends in attendance. Senior outfielder Hope Howell hails from Lithonia, Ga., while sophomore pitcher Monica Perry is from McDonough, Ga. and freshman pitcher Pepper Gay is from Avondale Estates.
Zymkowitz on a Tear: Junior second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz looks to already be in her 2009 All-American form, as she is batting .472 with 17 hits and an on-base percentage of .513 heading into this weekend. Zymkowitz has totaled three hits in three different games this season and is a perfect 6-for-6 on stolen base atttempts.
Howell Heats Up: Senior captain Hope Howell was exceptional at the plate in Illinois' four wins at the Stanford Nike Invitational, batting a scorching .714 (10-for-14). She led the team over the weekend with 10 hits and six runs scored while also contributing four RBIs. In the Illini victories, the senior also led the team with an on base percentage of .733 and a slugging percentage of .786. She raised her overall batting average to .429, second-best on the team.
Offensive Outburst: Illinois has found success throughout the lineup this year, leading the Big Ten with a team batting average of .360. In opening weekend at the UNLV Sportco Kick-Off Classic, the Illini went 5-0 while outscoring its opponents 43-6. Then at the Stanford Nike Invitational, the Orange and Blue suffered their first loss of the year, but still outscored their opponents 27-13. Illinois has scored five or more runs in eight of 10 games in 2010.
Illini Solid On The Mound: The Illinois pitching staff has had a successful start to the season, with a team ERA of 1.75 that ranks second in the Big Ten. The Orange and Blue already have tallied five shutouts in 2010, while starter Monica Perry is off to a 5-1 start and freshman Pepper Gay is 3-0. Last weekend at the Stanford Nike Invitational, Perry pitched a complete-game shutout against No. 17 Fresno State, while Gay picked up wins over Sacramento State and UC Riverside and got a save against Nevada. Freshman Jackie Guy has also been solid in relief, pitching 2.1 innings in the win over Sacramento State and giving up just one earned run all season.
Position Switches: Two Illini veterans have had solid starts to the season after moving to different positions than they played in 2009. Junior Audrey Gallien debuted as starting catcher at UNLV after spending her previous two years in the Illini infield. The transition has worked so far, as Gallien is batting clean-up for the Orange and Blue, hitting .360 with a slugging percentage of .720 and five extra-base hits. She also hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the 3-2 win over Cal State Bakersfield.
Junior Ashley Conrad has also moved in the lineup, playing centerfield after filling in at shortstop last year due to injuries. Conrad hit .364 in opening weekend at the UNLV Sportco Kick-Off Classic and leads the team with three home runs.
TV Schedule: The Big Ten Network released its 2010 spring schedule, with Illinois softball receiving unprecedented exposure. The Illini will have five games televised nationally on the BTN, while an additional seven games will be steamed on BTN.com. For a complete schedule, see the box at the bottom of the page.
Davis Debuts: Redshirt freshman Jessica Davis made her Illini debut at UNLV as starting shortstop, fitting right into the lineup in batting .429 in opening weekend with a home run while making several exceptional fielding plays. Davis was forced to take a medical redshirt in 2009 after suffering a season-ending knee injury in preseason practice.
First Grand Slam: Sophomore third baseman Kelley Wedel hit Illinois' first grand slam of the season against Kent State on Feb. 14, breaking a scoreless tie in the fourth and propelling Illinois to a 10-0 win. It was the first grand slam of Wedel's career and the 20th in program history.
Five RBIs for Hackett: Sophomore first baseman Meredith Hackett had a career game against Long Beach State on Feb. 13, knocking in a career-high five RBIs. Hackett was a perfect 3-of-3 at the plate, hitting a double and a two-run home run.
Another Tough Slate: Illinois and head coach Terri Sullivan are known for scheduling the toughest schedule possible, embracing the theory that to be the best you have to play the best. In 2010, the Illini will face 19 teams that qualified for the 2009 NCAA Tournament, including four teams that advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals and two 2009 Women's College World Series participants in Missouri and Michigan. In total, seven Illinois opponents in 2010 are ranked in the latest USA Today/NFCA poll while three more are receiving votes.
ABOUT THE OPPONENTS
Florida State: The Seminoles are off to an 11-1 start to the season and are ranked No. 22 in the latest NFCA poll. FSU's pitching staff has posted six consecutive shutouts, as starters Terese Gober (0.20 ERA) and Sarah Hamilton (0.79 ERA) have both been lights out early in the season. Hamilton is the reigning ACC Pitcher of the Year. Florida State was picked to win the ACC this season and return to the NCAA Tournament.
Mississippi Valley State: The Devilettes are off to a 3-4 start to the season and boast the reigning Southwestern Athletic Conference players of the week in second baseman Angelica Wade and pitcher Lisa Jansen. Wade leads the team with a .368 batting average and seven hits, while Jansen earned a win in all three MVSU victories. Last season, MVSU won the SWAC conference with a perfect 17-0 record.
Radford: The Highlanders are opening their 2010 season this weekend, coming off of an NCAA Tournament appearance and Big South title in 2009. Radford is led by junior shortstop Kristen Shifflett, the conference preseason player of the year, and Chelsea Kelley, the preseason Big South Pitcher of the Year.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies are 4-5 on the season, already playing weekend tournaments at Jacksonville and Georiga. Senior outfielder Whitney Davis is batting .483 on the season to lead the way offensively. In the circle, Virginia Tech has four pitchers who have started two games or more.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks have started out 5-4, most recently winning three straight at the North Texas Invitational. Arkansas made the 2009 NCAA Tournament, finishing third in the SEC. Offensively, senior Jessica Bachkora bats .438 with five home runs.
OTHER ILLINI NOTES
Returning All-American: Second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz returns for her junior season after becoming the second Illini in history to earn All-America honors, coming off a 2009 season where was named the third-team second baseman by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. She finished the year batting .401, good for second in the Big Ten and third in Illinois' single-season history. The West Hills, Calif., native led off every game in 2009 and reached base in 42 of 46 contests.
All-Big Ten Performers: Illinois returns the heart of its lineup in 2010 and four players who earned Big Ten accolades last season. Danielle Zymkowitz was named the first team second baseman, while rightfielder Hope Howell earned All-Big Ten second team honors for the third consecutive year. Leftfielder Hollie Pinchback and third baseman Kelley Wedel were also honored by being named to the conference third team.
Illini Return to NCAA Tournament: Illinois was selected to the 2009 NCAA Tournament, earning the third berth in program history and the first since 2004. The Illini played in the NCAA Regional at Missouri, falling to the host Tigers and DePaul. The Orange and Blue ended the year with a 29-17 record and a fifth-place finish in the grueling Big Ten.
Strikeout Queen: Righthander Monica Perry broke the Illinois single-season strikeout record during her freshman campaign, striking out 223 batters. The previous record was held by Amanda Fortune, who had 182 strikeouts in 2004. Perry carried a heavy load for Illinois last year, appearing in 44 of 46 games and making 39 starts.
World's Largest Softball Tailgate on April 24: Illinois will host its seventh annual World's Largest Softball Tailgate on Saturday, April 24 at 3 p.m. against Wisconsin. The annual event is a favorite in the Champaign-Urbana community, as fans come out to cheer on the Illini in an electric atmosphere with live music, games and tailgate food. Last year's WLST drew over 1,000 fans and was the third-best crowd in program history.
Sullivan Signs Two: Head coach Terri Sullivan signed two in-state athletes to national letters in intent in November. Illinois natives Alex Booker (Gurnee, Ill.) and Jenna Mychko (Union, Ill.) will join the Orange and Blue for the 2010-11 season. Booker is an outfielder known for her speed and athleticism, while Mychko is a catcher who has a career batting average of .496 at Huntley High School and brings leadership behind the plate.