Softball Hosts Eastern Illinois Tuesday in Non-Conference Play
Alex Booker has been a huge jumpstart for the Illini offense at the leadoff spot. In 26 starts at the top of the lineup, Booker has reached base 12 times as the first batter of the game, tallying nine hits, three walks and seven runs in the first inning, for a .391 average and a .462 on base percentage. Additionally, the junior left fielder has led off an inning 42 times, reaching base on 19 occasions (45.2 percent).
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 have now put together 11 double plays, ranking fourth in the Big Ten and 56th in the nation. Moreover, their four DP in conference play ranks third in the Big Ten.
ILLINOIS HAS 11TH-TOUGHEST SCHEDULE
Illinois has a tough task this season, with 11 scheduled games against opponents that are ranked in the top 25 in the NFCA poll this week, including six against top-10 teams. According the NCAA SOS rankings, the Illini have played the 11th-most difficult schedule to date – even without getting to play the doubleheader vs. Missouri. That mark will fluctuate throughout the season, but was as high as #4 in the nation at the start of April.
Illinois opened the season with a loss against then-No. 1 Alabama. The Orange and Blue played a pair of games against then-No. 6 Texas in Houston the following weekend. Jess Perkins hit a two-run homer off Texas’ Gabby Smith to record the first home run hit off the Longhorns this season, but Illinois dropped both contests. The Illini split with host Houston, who received votes in this week’s NFCA poll, winning the final game, 7-5.
The Illini then squared off with No. 8 California and No. 22 Washington in Palm Springs, along with Georgia Tech, who was ranked the previous week, and Oregon State, who entered the polls the following week. The Illini pitching staff allowed just one earned run against both No. 8 Cal and GT, but went 0-4 on the weekend.
Illinois played No. 19/17 Kentucky and USF the following weekend in Tampa; the Wildcats have moved up in the polls throughout the season, while the Bulls dropped from No. 17/14 to just receiving votes the week of the game. Illinois had an early lead in both games, but lost 5-4 in extras to Kentucky and 3-2 to USF.
The Illini were slated to play a neutral site double header against then-No. 7 Missouri on March 20, however it was cancelled due to inclement weather and will not be rescheduled.
The Orange and Blue opened Big Ten play on March 22-23 with a series against Wisconsin. The Illini went 0-3 against the Badgers, who were #26 that week and entered the top 25 following the series. Illinois tabbed its first victory over a ranked squad on March 30, taking one of three from then-No. 24 Nebraska.
While the best of the Illini’s opponents are now behind them, Illinois will travel to Minnesota for a three-game series this weekend and to Iowa City for a doubleheader at Iowa on Apr. 23, both of whom received votes in both of this week’s polls. The Illini will also play a second game against DePaul on Apr. 17, who is #39 in the RPI.
Illinois has four opponents in the RPI top 10, eight in the top 25, 16 in the top 50, and 22 in the top 100.
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 final RPI of 2012.
DOMINATING ON THE BASE PATHS
The Fighting Illini’s run game has been exceptional this year, ranking 39th in the nation as a team, with an average of 1.59 stolen bases per game. Not only have they been stealing often, but the Illini have been efficient, ranking fourth in the Big Ten in total bases stolen and leading with just six runners caught.
With 17 regular season games still to play, Johnson and Booker are already vaulting up the charts. The pair is currently tied for fourth in Illinois history in single-season stolen base percentage (.933), and three swipes away from breaking into the top 10 in total SB. Additionally, midway through her junior year, Booker sits in ninth all-time in career stolen bases (26) and in sixth in SB% (.788).
As a team, the Illini are having one of their best running seasons in school history, surpassing their previous high of 1.57 SB per game in 2002, and sitting with the second-best percentage, at .894. The Illini have finished a season with a stolen base percentage above .900 once, when they were 56-for-62 (.903) in 2010.
On the other side of the plate, the Illini battery has been keeping its opponents honest, throwing out a conference-best 14 runners, including seven in Big Ten play. Jenna Mychko leads the team with six runners thrown out, Linnea Detrick as five and Stephanie Cuevas has caught three. Detrick’s five in conference play leads the Big Ten, while Mychko ranks sixth through all games. Shelese Arnold is tied for fifth in the Big Ten, having been in the circle for seven of the caught runners, while Pepper Gay is tied with Mychko with six.