Danielle Vaji has reached base safely in all but one game this season, increasing her career on base percentage to .370 in the process.
March 10, 2011
Games 16-18 // Tiger Invitational
University Field; Columbia, Mo.
Follow Along: All three contests will feature Gametracker live stats updating available through FightingIllini.com while both games against Missouri will have live video available for purchase through the Tigers' website.
Illinois continues its 2011 slate at the University of Missouri's Tiger Invitational, held on March 12-13. This season's Tiger Invite has a three-team field consisting of #18 Missouri, Illinois State and the University of Illinois - all teams who began the season noted in the top-25 poll from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
The Illinois State Redbirds (12-8) begin tournament play in Missouri after finishing 3-3 in their most recent action at the ESPN Citrus Classic, hosted by the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla. The Redbirds fell to Fordham, Virginia and #13 Oregon while earning victories over Maryland, Temple and Longwood during the first-annual event.
Four batters with at least a .300 average lead the Redbirds on offense. Kara Nelson is the current batting leader on Illinois State, hitting at a .451 rate with 11 RBIs, five doubles and three triples. Nelson also sports a .506 on-base percentage and has found success on all three of her stolen base attempts. Abby Olson leads Illinois State in RBIs, with 19, and is hitting for a .441 clip. Olson also leads the Redbirds in doubles (7), home runs (6), total bases (53), slugging percentage (.898) and on-base percentage (.535). Nichelle Harrison (.347) and Liz Andrews (.302) round out the Redbirds batters who are hitting above .300 as the duo has combined for 33 hits, four doubles, two triples, two home runs, seven walks and 13 RBIs.
Illinois State has used four pitchers through the first 20 games of their season, with Taylor Baxter and Megan Warner leading the Redbirds in the circle. Baxter currently sports a 1.40 ERA in six appearances, allowing six earned runs in 30 innings pitched. Baxter has been efficient and accurate in her pitching, striking out 24 batters against only six walks while holding opponents to a .216 batting average. Warner has thrown the most innings of all Illinois State pitchers, earning a 2.98 ERA on 47 frames of work. Warner has struck out 51 batters, allowed 20 walks and held opponents to a .222 average.
Missouri is 12-3 overall, ranking 18th in the nation according to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. Three players batting at least .400 lead Mizzou at the plate, while two pitchers currently sport an ERA of lower than 1.00. In recent action, the Tigers have not allowed a run in their previous five contests, outscoring Southeast Missouri State, Saint Louis, Missouri State, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Arkansas by a combined score of 43-0.
Ashley Fleming has secured a hit in 20 of her 43 at bats (.465), with four doubles, three home runs and one triple. Fleming leads the Tigers in RBIs (16), slugging percentage (.814) and on base percentage (.540). Rhea Taylor owns a .429 batting average behind 21 hits, including three doubles, two home runs and one triple, in 49 at bats. Taylor has also been extremely successful on the base paths, totaling 13 stolen bases in 14 attempts. Maddison Reggeberg is the final Missouri player with a .400 batting average, having earned 10 hits in 25 at bats (.400) while starting nine of the 11 games she has seen time in.
Chelsea Thomas and Kristin Nottelmann have totaled the majority of the innings and starts for the Tigers, combining to only allow seven earned runs in 73 innings (0.67 ERA). Thomas threw two perfect games during the Missouri Breast Cancer Awareness Tournament and owns a 0.54 ERA in 39 innings of work, holding opponents to a .108 batting average with only 14 hits allowed. Nottlemann, who sports an equally impressive 0.84 ERA, is 6-0 on the season with 33 strikeouts in 34 innings pitched. Together, this duo has also held opponents to only 10 walks while fanning 100 batters.
The Fighting Illini finished 4-1 at the ESPN Citrus Classic at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla., earning wins over Temple, Maryland, Fordham and Longwood to improve to 9-6 on the season.
Meredith Hackett led all Illinois batters in the tournament, securing a .462 average with five doubles and a home run to total three RBIs and three runs scored. Hackett's penchant for power hitting earned the Corona, Calif., native a 1.077 slugging percentage while she secured a .588 on-base percentage with four walks. Danielle Vaji also connected at an impressive pace, totaling a .429 average with six hits in 14 at bats, including a triple. Three more Illini tallied batting averages over .300 as Danielle Zymkowitz (.375), Hollie Pinchback (.353) and Jessica Davis (.308) all reached base consistently. Zymkowitz tallied six hits, including one triple, and six runs scored to go with three walks and four stolen bases. Pinchback also totaled six hits, slugging a double and home run, to earn six RBIs while Davis led the Illini with seven RBIs on four hits, including two home runs.
Pepper Gay led Illinois in the circle, earning a 1.05 ERA while throwing three complete games. The Avondale Estates, Ga., native held the Fordham and Maryland lineups to one run a piece while holding the 13th-ranked Oregon Ducks to three hits and two runs. Gay was masterful in the circle, limiting her opponents to a .200 batting average and only two extra base hits in 85 batters faced.
Jackie Guy started two contests for Illinois during the tournament, holding Temple scoreless through six innings before navigating a seventh-inning rally attempt by Longwood to earn two victories on the weekend. In 12 innings of work, Guy struck out 16 batters, including a career-high 10 against Temple, while only issuing three walks.
CAREER MILESTONES FOR ZYMKOWITZ
Senior second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz earned the top spot on the all-time runs scored list in Illinois softball program history when she crossed the plate for the second time against Longwood. Zymkowitz has totaled 168 runs scored for her career - surpassing Angelena Mexicano's career total of 167. Zymkowitz is currently in first in career batting average (.368) and stolen base percentage (.886), resides in second for most triples (10) and stolen bases (78) and places third all-time for on base percentage (.430).
FINDING WAYS ON
Junior Meredith Hackett (13 walks) and senior Ashley Conrad (10) have combined to earn 23 of the team's 50 bases on balls in 2011 to earn the highest on base percentages among Illini hitters. In addition to their hits, both players have reached first base as a result of being struck by a pitch twice each. Currently, Hackett leads the Illini with a .556 on base percentage while Conrad has earned second on the 2011 squad by reaching base 46.3% of the time she steps to the plate.
MAKING BATTERS MISS
For the second consecutive tournament, Pepper Gay and Jackie Guy have fanned an impressive number of opponents, striking out 29 batters in 32 innings pitched during the ESPN Citrus Classic. Guy dominated the Temple Owls lineup; setting down 10 hitters on strikes to earned a career-high strikeout performance. Gay spread her strikeout total of 13 over 20 innings, including an impressive performance against the #13 Oregon offense. Gay averaged one strikeout per inning against the Ducks as the St. Pius X Catholic graduate held Oregon to its second-lowest hits output of the season (2) in seven frames of work.
In the Illini's last 10 games, Guy and Gay have combined for 51 strikeouts in 57.1 innings of work, with Gay earning a career-best 10 strikeouts in a five-inning shutouts of Providence to open the Blue and Gold Felsberg Memorial Tournament.
NO EASY OUTS
Through the first 15 games, six Illini batters have hit at a rate of at least .300, earning a combined average of .356 (98-for-275) in the process.
Danielle Vaji, who has recorded at least one hit in her previous 13 games, leads all Illini with a .405 batting average. Meredith Hackett is second on the team with a .395 clip, going 15-for-38 to open the season. Hollie Pinchback has remained consistent throughout the year, hitting for a .385 average, while Kelley Wedel finished ESPN Citrus Classic action hitting at a .341 rate. Danielle Zymkowitz increased her season average to .333 while Jessica Davis rounds out the group with a .326 mark.
As a team, the Illini are hitting .308, good for third among Big Ten Conference squads. Within the Big Ten, the Illini are also third in runs (91), doubles (22), slugging percentage (.467) and on base percentage (.395) through games of March 6.
Another All-American: First baseman Meredith Hackett earned NFCA All-American honors following a stellar sophomore season, becoming the third Illini to earn All-America status. Hackett led the Big Ten with a .418 batting average, blasting 16 home runs to go with 11 doubles. Hackett also led the Illini in slugging percentage (.804), total bases (123), walks (29) and on-base percentage (.516). After her phenomenal season, Hackett now leads all current and former Illini with a career .641 slugging percentage.
All-Big Tens All Around: The Orange and Blue set a new program record with six All-Big Ten selections during the 2010 season. Senior Hope Howell, junior Danielle Zymkowitz and sophomore Meredith Hackett each earned First Team All-Big Ten honors while junior Hollie Pinchback, sophomore Monica Perry and freshman Pepper Gay were each named to the Second Team. The previous record was set in 2009 when five Illini earned All-Big Ten recognition.
Off to the Races: Junior Danielle Zymkowitz again led the Illini in stolen bases, finding success in 36 of her 37 attempts. With this high output on the base paths, Zymkowitz set the single-season stolen base record, previously held by Rachele Corriddi, who stole 23 in 2003 and 2007. Zymkowitz also took control of the career stolen base percentage mark, having found success in 70 of her 80 attempts since her freshman year in 2008.
First-Year Impact: Freshman pitcher Pepper Gay earned Illini Female Newcomer of the Year after finishing with a 16-1 record to go with a 1.46 earned run average. Gay set the program single-season mark for strikeouts per seven-inning contest, fanning an average of 6.88 per game. The Georgia native threw a total of 115 innings on the season, striking out 113 opponents against only 91 hits.
RPI: Illinois finished in the top-20 in schedule difficulty yet again, sitting among 2010 Women's College World Series participants such as Missouri, Georgia, Hawaii and Tennessee. The Illini's top-20 ranking in 2010 marks the third consecutive season head coach Terri Sullivan has schedule one of the 50 most difficult slates in the nation.
No Extra Innings Necessary: In their 48 victories, the Illini did not see extra innings in a victory for the first season since 2006. The 2010 schedule also marked the first year in which the Illini did not play extra innings during any contest, completing a full seven-inning game 40 times, while ending due to the NCAA-mandated mercy rule after six innings in four games and after completing five innings in the remaining nine match-ups.
Don't Call It A Comeback!: After Ohio State scratched out one run in the top of the seventh to tie its April 10 meeting with the Illini at 2-2, the Orange and Blue may have looked to be destined for their first extra-innings contest of 2010. However, junior Ashley Conrad stepped to the plate as the first Illini batter of the final frame and belted a two-strike home run over the left field fence at Eichelberger Field to send Illinois out with a 3-2 victory over the Buckeyes. On the day, Conrad finished 2-for-3, having opened the fifth inning with a single. This walk-off home run also marks the first of Conrad's career.
In-State Success: The Illini proved their superiority against Illinois-based institutions, finishing 11-1 overall. The Fighting Illini downed Bradley during the Children's Hospital Invitational in Columbia, Mo., 5-1, to record their first victory of the season versus Illinois teams. The Orange and Blue followed with victories over Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois, Illinois State and Northwestern in the regular season before downing DePaul twice during NCAA Tournament action to reach the regional final.
Raking From Top To Bottom: The Fighting Illini produced eight starters who hit better than the league average of .270 at the plate in 2010; the first time in team history eight of the nine starters produced at least this average in a season. Meredith Hackett, Hope Howell and Danielle Zymkowitz led the way for the Illini, with each earning over a .400 average. Jessica Davis finished her season with a .298 clip followed closely by Hollie Pinchback's .296 mark. Audrey Gallien hit .288 in her first season as the full-time catcher while Danielle Vaji immediately bounced back from season-ending injury five games into the 2009 slate by producing a .285 mark in 2010. Kelley Wedel rounded out the group by finishing with a .272 average in her second season as a starter in the Illini infield.