Illinois Hosts Iowa in Big Ten Opener
Illinois is 12-18 all-time against the Hawkeyes, but the majority of those losses came in an eight-game stretch from March 31, 2006 to April 1, 2009. The Illini went to Iowa City last season for a midweek doubleheader on the Big Ten Network, and picked up a pair of three-run victories, defeating the Hawkeyes, 8-5, and 6-3, to record wins no. four and five of the Illini's eventual 10-game winning streak.
THE TALENTED SISTERS REPOLE
Third baseman Katie Repole will have a familiar face in the opposing dugout this weekend, as her twin sister Whitney is an outfielder for the Hawkeyes. She has played in all-but-one game for Iowa, collecting seven hits, five runs, and being hit by a pitch a team-high four times in 2014. The Repole sisters are used to facing each other, as they played on separate travel teams growing up, but also spend their summers training together.
Katie performed well in her first outing against the Hawkeyes, picking up a key RBI single and scoring in the Illini's eight-run second inning in the first game of the doubleheader.
PERKINS' TWO-RUN BLAST LIFTS ILLINI IN EXTRAS
On March 9, Brandi Needham was fantastic in the circle, limiting Hofstra to just four hits and no runs over seven innings, but despite having a runner on in every inning, the Illini struggled to come up with an RBI, as the pair headed to extra innings in a scoreless tie. However, with two outs in the top of the eighth, Jess Perkins came through big time with a monster two-run blast to left to put Illinois ahead 2-0. Needham then completed the eight-inning shutout with a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth, with the help of a heads-up play by Ruby Rivera to get the tie-break runner heading to third for the first out, to seal the deal for the Illini and pick up her second career shutout.
BOOKER TABS SECOND CYCLE IN BIG TEN HISTORY
On Sunday, Feb. 23, senior Alex Booker made history by becoming the first-ever Illini to hit for the cycle, doing so in the Illini's 9-1 victory over Creighton. It began with an RBI double in the second inning. She then laid down a bunt single to load the bases in the third. She drilled a two-out triple in the top of the fifth, then crushed a two-run homer in the seventh to become just the second player in Big Ten history ever to hit for the cycle. Her 10 total bases in the game lead the Big Ten this season, and just two Illini have ever registered more in a game, each recording 11 on a single, a double and two home runs (Meredith Hackett vs. UTSA, 2/12/11 & Angelena Mexicano vs. Sacramento State, 3/18/07).
BOOKER NAMED BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Senior Alex Booker was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Feb. 24 after her head-turning performance at the UTA Hilton Invitational. The Gurnee, Ill., native made history on Feb. 23, by becoming the first Illini and just the second Big Ten player ever to hit for the cycle, leading the Illini to a 9-1 victory over Creighton. Booker hit safely in all four games at the tournament, going 3-for-4 with a double and a stolen base against UMKC, then tallying a single, a double, a triple and a home run to go along with three RBI and two runs against Creighton on Sunday. She began the weekend with a single, a stolen base and an RBI against Texas Tech, and finished the tournament by hitting a two-RBI double to drive in the game-winning run against UT Arlington. Booker tabbed a .529 batting average on the week, slugging 1.000.
ILLINOIS RECORDS BEST SEASON START EVER
The Fighting Illini opened the 2014 season on an eight-game winning streak, marking the best start to a season in program history. The 8-0 debut eclipsed the previous record of six wins to begin a season, which the Orange and Blue set in 2001, their first season with a scholarship team, then matched in 2003 and again in 2010.
The Orange and Blue won 11 of their final 12 regular-season games in 2013, putting together a 19-1 record in regular-season games from April 20, 2013 to Feb. 15, 2014.
It took facing the No. 1 team in the country, undefeated Tennessee, the 2013 NCAA Runner-Up, for Illinois to finally lose a game. The Illini contained the Lady Vols' potent offense through the first six innings, but a two-out rally in the top of the seventh pushed the game out of reach, as the Illini would fall 10-0. Illinois tallied five hits against two-time USA Softball National Player of the Year finalist Ellen Renfroe, who had allowed just five total hits over her previous three starts combined, but stranded them all on base.
ILLINOIS HAS TOUGH 2014 SLATE
After playing one of the most difficult schedules in the nation in 2013, ranked #4 at the end of April, the Fighting Illini have another tough task ahead this season:
The Fighting Illini defense has done a fantastic job at keeping base runners from scoring, most effectively by turning double plays. Throughout nonconference play the Illini have turned 13 double plays, which is three more than the next Big Ten team.
The Illini are averaging 0.62 double plays per game, which ranks fifth in the nation. Illinois' all-time record is 0.49 per game, set back in 2006, when the Illini ranked fourth in the nation by turning a program-best 27 double plays in 55 games.
First baseman Remeny Perez has participated in a league-leading 10, second baseman Allie Bauch has had her hand in eight, and Ruby Rivera has turned six. Katie Repole has each turned three DPs, including an inning-ending double play against No. 1 Tennessee to strand a leadoff double, and Brittany Sanchez has participated in two from center field.
BEST OF THE BEST
The Illini have put up strong numbers across the board this season, sitting in the top 50 in the NCAA in eight different statistical categories. The Illini defense ranks fifth in the nation, averaging 0.62 double plays per game, and 29th nationally in fielding percentage (.973). The Illini pitching staff ranks 48th in ERA, while individually, Brandi Needham is 23rd in walks allowed per seven innings and 79th in ERA. She and Shelese Arnold are also in the top 100 with two shutouts each.
On offense, Illinois ranks 25th in doubles per game (1.57), 43rd in batting average (.309), 42nd in scoring (5.67 runs/g), 45th in slugging percentage (.473), and 48th in home runs per game (0.86). Individually, Alex Booker is 11th in the nation with three triples and 79th in batting average (.419), Remeny Perez is 29th in HBP (0.33/g) and Ruby Rivera is 65th in doubles (0.33).
The Illini are among the top in the Big Ten in several categories as well. As a team, the Orange and Blue lead the conference in double plays turned, along with fewest walks, doubles and unearned runs allowed, while ranking in the top three in several major categories, including batting average, slugging percentage, doubles, fewest strikeouts, runs allowed and fielding percentage. Needham leads the conference in walks allowed per seven innings, and is in the top 10 in 12 additional categories. Booker leads the league in triples, is sixth in batting average, and in the top 10 in five additional categories. Perez is in the top 10 in hit by pitch and home runs, while Rivera ranks second in doubles per game and third in sacrifice bunts. Perez leads the league in double plays turned (10), Allie Bauch is in third with eight, and Rivera is tied for fifth with six. Additionally, Jenna Mychko has had the fourth-most fielding chances without committing an error, tallying 69 putouts and 12 assists, while four Illini have had at least 20 chances and remain perfect in the field.
The Illini have also set some Big Ten single-game highs, including leading all teams with 17 hits and 15 runs against Binghamton, 28 total bases against Creighton, 13 RBI against Western Michigan, and 20 assists against Eastern Illinois. Booker's 10 total bases against Creighton, when she hit for the cycle, and Bauch's school-record-tying nine assists vs. EIU are also tops in the conference.
MIDDLE INFIELD SETS RECORD AGAINST EIU
When the Fighting Illini took on Eastern Illinois on Feb. 8, the Orange and Blue pitching staff kept the ball in the infield for nearly the entire game, as the Panthers registered just one flyout to the outfield. The Illini registered a program-record 20 assists in the eight-inning game, surpassing the previous record of 19 assists set on Feb. 12, 2006, against Tulsa and matched on May 4, 2008, against Iowa. Illini second baseman Allie Bauch accounted for nearly half the team's assists, tying the school record with nine in the game, to go along with three putouts and participating in a key double play. Bauch tied the record that was set by Illini Assistant Coach and second baseman Katie O'Connell on March 24, 2001, against Wisconsin, and was matched last season by teammate Katie Repole on Feb. 15, 2013, at third base against Houston.
COMING THROUGH WITH TWO
A big key to the Illini's success has been the offense's ability to come through in the clutch with key two-out hitting. The Fighting Illini hit .417 with two outs at the Rosemont Rumble, and drove in a total of 25 two-out RBI, while limiting their opponents to just .244 and two runs with two outs.
On the season, Illinois is hitting .323 with two outs, and leads its opponents 43-23 in two-out RBI. Alex Booker is tops on the team with 10 two-out RBI, followed by Remeny Perez with seven, and Brittany Sanchez and Allie Bauch with six apiece. Sanchez's have come at some of the biggest moments, as she drove in three runs on a pair of two-out RBI singles to lead the Illini back from down 3-2 to defeat IUPUI, 5-3, and came through with the game-tying RBI in the sixth inning against USF. Additionally, Kylie Johnson picked up a huge two-out RBI against No. 14 South Alabama, driving in the tying run on an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh to send the game into extra innings.
MOVING `EM UP
Illinois has been very effective with runners on base, hitting .321 with runners on and .330 with runners in scoring position. Illini batters have been successful at advancing runners on base in 47.6 percent of the time, and have come up with RBIs with runners on third and less than two outs 54.7 percent of the time. Illinois batters have been extremely effective with the bases loaded, hitting .409, including a grand slam by Remeny Perez.
Individually, seven Illini batters are hitting at least .300 with runners on base, led by Alex Booker (19-42, .452), Allie Bauch (13-31, .419), and Kylie Johnson (5-12, .417). Booker is hitting a team-best .458 (11-24) with runners in scoring position, following by Bauch (8-19, .421), Sanchez (10-25, .400) and Jess Perkins (6-15, .400).
Conversely, the Illini pitching staff has limited its opponents to hitting just .272 with runners on base and .275 with runners in scoring position, including 1-for-20 at the UTA Hilton Invite, stranding 118-of-175 base runners (68%).
Illinois has done a fantastic job getting innings started, as leadoff batters have reached base in 55-of-136 innings (.404), while the Illini's opponents have been effective just 27.5 percent of the time (38-for-138). Illini leadoff batter Allie Bauch has reached base 11 times in 36 attempts (.306). She has gotton on safely six times as the first batter of the game, including three leadoff home runs. Every Illini who has led off at least four times is hitting .300 or better in the situation, as Brittany Sanchez is 10-for-21 (.476) and Jenna Mychko is 7-for-17 (.412).
The Fighting Illini freshman class shined on opening weekend, as all four healthy first-years contributed in a big way at the Rosemont Rumble. Right fielder Nicole Evans registered a hit and scored in all five games at the indoor tournament, completing the weekend by hitting .400 with two doubles, two home runs, four RBI, eight runs scored and a team-best .933 slugging percentage. Additionally, she was perfect in the outfield, including making a run-saving outfield assist against UIC by robbing the batter of an RBI single to right by making the play to first.
Shortstop Ruby Rivera was unstoppable on her first weekend, hitting a team-high .538 at the Rosemont Rumble, including going 6-for-6 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt in her first eight career plate appearances. It was not until the fourth inning of her third game when the rookie was retired for the first time, on a ball that was ruled an out by the umpire after striking the ceiling of the dome. She finished the weekend with seven hits, a double, two walks, three runs, two RBI, and a sacrifice bunt, while registering perfect poise at shortstop, making 15 assists, nine putouts and turning two double plays. Following the first weekend of play, Rivera ranked second only to teammate Allie Bauch (21) in the Big Ten in assists.
Brandi Needham turned heads on opening weekend, going 3-0 in three appearances in the circle, registering a 0.79 ERA with just two runs and one walk over 17.2 innings. The Dripping Springs, Texas, native made her first career start against Loyola, where she allowed just one earned run on five hits and one walk over 5.0 solid innings to pick up her first win. Needham returned to the circle for her first relief appearance the following morning, tossing 5.2 shutout innings to close out the Illini's extra-innings victory over Eastern Illinois. She then tabbed her first career complete-game victory in the weekend finale against Central Michigan, holding the Chippewas scoreless through the first 6.2 innings, before finishing the day with six hits, one run and three strikeouts over 7.0 frames. After the first weekend of play, she is tied for first in the Big Ten in wins, second in innings pitched and walks allowed, and fourth in ERA.
Jade Vecvanags contributed for the Illini on both offense and defense, starting each game as the designated player and making two appearances in the circle. The Orange, Calif., native went 1-for-2 with a walk in her debut as the cleanup hitter against UIC, then pitched a perfect 1-2-3 sixth inning in relief against Loyola to seal up the Illini's second win of the day. She struggled in her first career start on the mound against IUPUI, allowing three runs over 2.1 innings, but picked her team up on offense by going 1-for-3 at the plate against the Jaguars.
Alyssa Gunther missed the majority of tournament season due to a hand injury shortly before the season, but she finally made her debut for the Orange and Blue at home during the Fighting Illini Classic. Without the ability to practice while she was out, she began her career as a pinch runner, scoring a run against both North Dakota State and Omaha, while stealing her first career base against UNO.
ILLINI RECORD PERFECT OPENING WEEKEND
The Fighting Illini could not have had a better start to the 2014, as they swept through the competition at the Rosemont Rumble with a perfect 5-0 record. Illinois began the season with back-to-back 10-run victories over co-hosts and 2013 Horizon League Co-Champions Illinois-Chicago (11-1) and Loyola (12-2), then pulled off solid wins over 2013 OVC Champion Eastern Illinois (4-2), IUPUI (5-3) and 2013 MAC Tournament Champion and NCAA Regional qualifier Central Michigan (4-1).
The Illini were solid on all parts of the game, hitting .360 as a team, while registering a 1.91 ERA and a .988 fielding percentage. Nine Illini had at least two hits on the weekend, with seven starters hitting over. 300. Ruby Rivera (.538), Brittany Sanchez (.529) and Jenna Mychko (.500) all hit at least .500, and Nicole Evans led the Orange and Blue with a .933 slugging percentage over the five games.
The Illinois pitching staff limited its opponents to nine earned runs on 32 hits and just five walks over 33 innings. Freshman Brandi Needham had a fantastic debut weekend for the Illini, going 3-0 with a 0.79 ERA and just one walk allowed over 17.2 innings, picking up her first complete-game victory against Central Michigan. Junior Shelese Arnold had a solid weekend back in the circle for the Orange and Blue, earning a pair of wins and limiting her opponents to just four earned runs over 12.0 innings. A big key to the Illini's success was the pair's ability to limit opponents at the plate with runners on base, as they held the other team to just nine hits in 49 attempts (.184).
Conversely, the Illini offense took advantage of RBI situations, hitting .338 as a team with runners on base, led by Sanchez, who went 6-for-9 with runners on. The Illini leadoff batters also got the job done, reaching base in 15 of 32 innings (.469) to get things started for the Orange and Blue. Additionally, Illinois took advantage of clutch hitting to make things happen, tallying 20 two-out hits and 25 two-out RBI to hit .417 with two down at the Rosemont Rumble. In comparison, Illinois' opponents recorded just two 2-out RBI.
ALEX BOOKER NAMED PRESEASON ALL-BIG TEN
Senior left fielder Alex Booker was named to the Preseason All-Big Ten Second Team by CollegeSportsMadness.com, after earning All-Big Ten Second Team and Big Ten All-Defensive Team honors in 2013.
Booker had a fantastic season for the Illini on both offense and defense in 2013, 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 in 2013.
She was also outstanding in left field, recording the most fielding chances in the Big Ten without making an error, tallying 87 putouts and seven outfield assists.