Illini Host Hoosiers in Big Ten Play this Weekend
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 a total 15 double plays, ranking third in the Big Ten and 31st in the nation. Moreover, their six DP in conference play ranks second in the Big Ten.
Jessica Davis JUMPS UP THE STANDINGS
Fifth-year senior shortstop Jessica Davis is vaulting up the charts in several career categories, hoping to graduate as one of the top student-athletes to come through the Illini program. In her sophomore season, Davis hit .336 with eight doubles, 14 home runs, 20 walks and 46 RBI. While she has yet to top her second year, she Zephyrhills, Fla., native has posted four solid seasons to accumulate competitive career totals.
Davis is in the top 10 in five major categories, sitting in the top 15 with time to improve in several more. The slugger is sixth in hit by pitch (14), seventh in home runs (24), eighth in slugging percentage (.485), ninth in on base percentage (.371) and 10th in triples (13). She also ranks in the top 15 in batting average, runs scored, RBI, walks, total bases and assists.
Alex Booker has been a huge jumpstart for the Illini offense at the leadoff spot. In 27 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 .333 average and a .444 on base percentage. Additionally, the junior leftfielder has led off an inning 44 times, reaching base on 19 occasions (43.2 percent).
Freshman Allie Bauch has also spent time at the top of the order, making eight starts at the leadoff position, including four of the last five games. She has reached base in three of her eight first-inning leadoff appearances, with a double, two walks and two runs.
ILLINOIS HAS 12TH-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 and ESPN.com polls this week. According the NCAA SOS rankings, the Illini have played the 12th-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.
Illinois 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 but have since returned to the top 25. 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.
Illinois played a three-game series with Minnesota on April 13-14, who received votes in both polls, playing as the visitors at Eichelberger Field. Despite moving the game to Urbana, the Gophers swept the Illini.
While the best of the Illini's opponents are now behind them, Illinois has yet to travel to Iowa City for its doubleheader at Iowa on Apr. 23, who received votes in both of this week's polls.
Illinois has three opponents in the RPI top 10, nine in the top 25, 16 in the top 50, and 23 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, entering the week ranked 48th in the nation as a team, with an average of 1.44 stolen bases per game. Not only have they been stealing often, but the Illini have been efficient, ranking second in the Big Ten with just seven runners caught.
With 13 regular season games still to play, Johnson and Booker are already vaulting up the charts. Booker is in fourth all-time with her season SB% of .937 and in 15th in total SB. Johnson isn't far behind in 17th. Additionally, midway through her junior year, Booker sits in ninth all-time in career stolen bases (27) and in sixth in SB% (.794).
On the other side of the plate, the Illini battery has been keeping its opponents honest, throwing out a conference-best 16 runners, including nine in Big Ten play. Jenna Mychko and Linnea Detrick are tied for 10th in the league with six runners thrown out, and Detrick leads the Big Ten with all six coming in conference play. In the circle, Shelese Arnold is tied for fourth in the Big Ten with eight caught runners, while Pepper Gay is tied for seventh with seven. Moreover, they are both in the top five in conference play, with Arnold ranking second.
GAY BREAKS ALL-TIME STRIKEOUTS RECORD
With her fourth strikeout against North Dakota State on Feb. 9, 2013, senior Pepper Gay became Illinois' all-time strikeout leader, tossing her 471st K. Gay passed Amanda Fortune (2001-04) to take over the top spot. On Feb, 24, 2013, Gay became the first Illini pitcher to record 500 strikeouts, in a two-hit, one-run game vs. Georgia Tech in Palm Springs, Calif.
Additionally, Gay is one start shy of the the all-time record, throwing out the first pitch in 104 games. Fortune holds the record at 105, but Gay will surely overtake her before the week is through.