Illinois Softball Readies for Purdue Boilermakers

Senior outfielder Nikki Simpson finished Illinois' four games last week with a combined .455 batting average, including a double and three RBIs while drawing one walk.
Senior outfielder Nikki Simpson finished Illinois' four games last week with a combined .455 batting average, including a double and three RBIs while drawing one walk.

April 20, 2012

University of Illinois Softball Notes

Illinois (19-20 overall, 3-9 B1G) vs. Purdue (27-13, 9-2)
Saturday, April 21 // Eichelberger Field // Urbana, Ill. // 1 & 3 p.m. CT
Sunday, April 22 // Eichelberger Field // Urbana, Ill. // 1 p.m. CT

Printable Notes: Illinois Get Acrobat Reader | Purdue Get Acrobat Reader
Big Ten Student U/All-Access (purchasable): Game One | Game Two
Live Stats: Game One | Game Two | Game Three
Radio: Illini Sports Network - WDWS 1400AM (game one-only)
Illinois-Purdue Series: Illinois leads, 14-9
Last Meeting: L, 11-6 in West Lafayette, Ind., on April 13, 2011
Overall Streak: L 1
Home Streak: W 2

Quick Hits
In 2012, Illinois is...
• 14-0 when leading after six innings.
• 15-5 when scoring at least three runs.
• 14-4 when allowing two or fewer runs.
• 13-4 in games decided by two or fewer runs.
• 12-2 when scoring the first run of the game.
• 9-1 when playing perfect defense.

Opponent Insider
Purdue arrives at Eichelberger Field sporting a 27-13 overall record and 9-2 mark in Big Ten play, good for second in the conference standings. The Boilermakers are 6-4 in their previous 10 games, including three consecutive victories, and are 7-5 in true road games.

Purdue enters with six hitters connecting for batting averages above .300 through 40 games, including a team-leading .387 line (41-for-106) from Ashley Courtney, who owns a Boilermakers-best 29 RBIs and 23 walks to go with the highest on-base percentage (.500). Lindsey Rains follows at .385 (50-for-130), including the most runs of and Purdue player, 33, while Andie Varsho is 51-for-137 (.372) with 31 runs scored, 24 RBIs and 17 walks. Molly Garst (.351; 47-for-134), Danielle Fletcher (.342; 39-for-114), Tori Chiodo (.326; 31-for-95) and Erika Petruzzi (34-for-113) round out the core of players that have helped pace Purdue to a .329 team batting average (359-for-1092). Purdue is out-hitting its opponents in every major statistical category, with more hits, 359-173, more runs scored, 235-173, more extra-base hits, 114-70, a higher slugging percentage, .485-.401 and a batter on-base percentage, .416-.357, while stealing more bases, 83-34.

Four pitchers have seen time in the circle for the Boilermakers, with freshman Lexy Moore pitching 149 2/3 of Purdue's 255 innings. Moore is 18-5 on the season with a 2.90 ERA, appearing in 28 games while making 20 starts and pitching 17 complete contests. Moore has allowed 172 hits and 29 walks while striking out 100 batters. Opponents are connecting well against Moore, hitting .286 as a whole while Moore has allowed 62 earned runs, 23 doubles, five triples and nine home runs. Alex Whittemore (4.49 ERA; 3-4 record), Katie Hackney (4.63, 5-2) and Erika Petruzzi (8.67, 1-2) round out the Purdue rotation. Hackney follows in terms of most innings pitched, with 45 1/3 frames through 14 appearances that includes five starts, while Hackney has allowed 30 earned runs on 23 walks and 56 hits, striking out 31. Whittemore has also made 14 appearances, starting 10 contests while tossing 39 innings, allowing 25 earned runs on 33 walks and 40 hits. Petruzzi has made five starts among seven total appearances, allowing 26 earned runs 37 hits and 11 walks while opponents are hitting .374 against her. As a unit, the Purdue staff owns a 3.90 ERA with 21 complete games and six shutouts, giving up 305 hits and 96 walks, striking out 166 while opponents hit .292 on average against the team.

The last time out between the two squads, Illinois and Purdue split a midweek doubleheader on April 13, 2011. The Illini took game one, 9-3, while the Boilermakers secured a win in game two, 11-6. In the first contest, Danielle Zymkowitz finished 3-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored while Meredith Hackett and Ashley Conrad each totaled two hits, with Conrad adding two RBIs and a run scored. Pepper Gay earned the victory in game one, with two earned runs allowed over seven innings of work, striking out four while allowing six hits and two walks. Despite suffering the loss in the finale, Zymkowitz, Hollie Pinchback and Hackett - No. 1 through No. 3 hitters - compiled a 7-for-12 game with all six runs scored and four RBIs. Laura Tarnawa took the loss with 4 2/3 innings of five-hit softball, allowing five hits and two earned runs.

Illini Live Media Coverage
The Fighting Illini will receive considerable live coverage from various media outlets this season, with a total of 16 games broadcast through three separate platforms, including the Big Ten Network, Big Ten Student and the Illini Sports Network - WDWS 1400AM. Illinois will play live on the Big Ten Network four times against three separate conference opponents when Illinois hosts Wisconsin (April 14) and Penn State (May 6) and heads to Michigan (April 28). The Orange and Blue will also appear on Big Ten Student U at Eichelberger Field, either on the television network or streamed online, on five occasions. The Illini Sports Network - WDWS 1400 AM radio station will also have the call on five contests, including Illinois State (April 4), both games against Wisconsin on April 14 and the first game each against Purdue (April 21) and Penn State during World's Largest Softball Tailgate on May 5. Below is a full list of the currently scheduled broadcasts.

Composite Media Coverage Schedule
Big Ten Network (CT)
April 14	Wisconsin (DH)	        4/6 p.m.
April 28	at Michigan (DH)	2:30/4:30 p.m.
May 6	        Penn State	        2 p.m.

Big Ten Student U // Fighting Illini All-Access (CT) March 28 Indiana State W, 7-2 April 17 Western Illinois 7 p.m. April 21 Purdue (DH) 1/3 p.m. May 2 Southern Illinois 4 p.m. May 6 Penn State 2 p.m.

Illini Sports Network - WDWS 1400AM (CT) April 4 Illinois State 6 p.m. April 14 Wisconsin (DH) 4/6 p.m. April 21 Purdue (Game 1) 1 p.m. May 5 Penn State (Game 1) 1 p.m.

Upcoming Softball Promotions
With seven games remaining in the home schedule, here is a list of upcoming Illinois softball promotions being held at Eichelberger Field in conjunction with contests. To pre-register for Girl Scout Day, please contact Marketing Coordinator Brooke Buzard at 217-333-8782 or

Girl Scout Day // Dog Day - Saturday, April 21
Illinois hosts a dual promotion Saturday, April 21 vs. Purdue, bringing together the annual Girl Scout Day with Dog Day at Eichelberger Field. Girl Scouts that pre-register with Brooke Buzard can receive scouting patches and concession stand coupons. With Dog Day, bring your puppy to the ball park to enjoy the weather and softball, and you can enter your friend for the Most Spirited Contest, which is the dog with the most Illini gear!

Sports Equipment Drive // Sunday Funday - Sunday, April 22
Illinois softball will host an athletic equpiment drive sponsored by Illini Pride on Sunday, April 22. Those who donate their gently used sporting equipment will be entered into a drawing for a Dick's Sporting Goods or TicketMaster gift card. Illinois concessions will also offer its "Sunday Funday" deal of a drink, chips and hot dog for $5 while the Illini will be available for an autograph session following the game.

Full Promotion Schedule
April 21 -- Girl Scout Day (Pre-registration required); Dog Day
April 22 -- Sports Equipment Drive; Sunday Funday
May 2 -- Screen-Free Week; Illini student home run derby
May 5 -- World's Largest Softball Tailgate IX
May 6 -- Senior Day

Western Illinois Recap
Stephanie Cuevas totaled a pair of run-scoring singles while Jessica Davis knocked an RBI-double to the left field wall and scored a run as the Illini softball squad downed Western Illinois, 5-1, at Eichelberger Field. Starting pitcher Pepper Gay picked up the right-hander's 50th career victory against WIU on Tuesday evening with a complete-game effort, holding an opponent to one or fewer runs for the 20th time on the season to secure the win.

Illinois (19-20 overall) opened scoring in the top of the fourth, with Jess Perkins creating the one-run lead. Brittany Sanchez led off the frame with a walk and Davis reached on an infield single, beating the throw from shortstop by half of a step to put runners on first and second with no one out. Perkins followed with an RBI-single to score Sanchez as Davis and Perkins moved up one base each on the throw home from right fielder Monica Rondon.

Still in the fourth, with runners on second and third and no one out, Danielle Vaji reached safely on a fielding error by third baseman Megan Kelley, loading the bases as Kelley bobbled the play while trying to hold Davis at third base. With Jenna Mychko at bat following Vaji, Western Illinois starting pitcher Hailey Bickford tossed a 2-2 pitch in the dirt that kicked away toward the third base dugout. As Leatherneck catcher Lia Romeo tracked down the ball, Davis hustled home safely to stake the Illini to a 2-0 lead. After Jami Schkade drew a walk to put runners on each bag, Cuevas earned the first of the junior's two RBI-base hits to push the Orange and Blue in front, 3-0.

Western Illinois (22-19) earned its lone run in the top of the fifth to cut the Illini advantage to 3-1. With the bases loaded, first baseman Jamie Goss - WIU's RBI-leader entering the contest with 32 - sent a one-out fly ball to Alex Booker, scoring Emma Jarrell from third. However, the Illini responded immediately in the bottom of the frame to re-take a three-run lead. Booker walked as the first batter and stole second base, with Davis using a double to drive in Booker two batters later.

The Orange and Blue reached the final score with a lone run in the bottom of the sixth, extending their lead to 5-1 in the process. Mychko reached on a fielding error by shortstop KC Dunne, moving to second when Schkade followed with a slow ground out to the pitcher. After Mychko moved to third on a wild pitch, Cuevas singled to right field.

Gay won for the third straight time in the Illini-Leathernecks series with one run allowed on five hits and four walks against eight strikeouts. Gay, who is now 50-26 in the circle as an Illini, owns a 0.36 ERA against WIU, with 19 2/3 innings of one-run softball, allowing seven hits while striking out 21 Western Illinois batters over three contests.

Bickford took the loss with 4 1/3 innings in the circle, giving up four runs - three earned - on four hits and four walks while striking out four.

Playing Anywhere and Everywhere

Redshirt-senior Danielle Vaji is finishing out her Illini career as the definition of a utility player, having started mainly at second base and in left field while also seeing time at shortstop and first base during the current campaign. Rotating positions is not new territory for the Plano, Texas, native. In addition, Vaji has also served as the starting designated player and has spent time as a pinch hitter, pinch runner and right fielder, while playing at least two and as many as six different positions in every healthy season.

For her career, which spans 191 games played and 146 starts, Vaji is hitting .272 (116-for-426) with 12 doubles and four triples while scoring 80 runs, driving in 32 more, drawing 55 walks and stealing 17 bases. Below is a list of Vaji's games started and additional appearances where Vaji subbed into a contest at a specific position, as well as her total number of appearances at each spot.

Position	    GS	    GP	    Total Appearances
Shortstop	    71	    3	    74
Designated Player   33	    12	    45
Left Field	    20	    3	    23
Pinch Runner	    -	    23	    23
Second Base	    16	    2	    18
Pinch Hitter	    -	    15	    15
First Base	    5	    -	    5
Right Field	    1	    -	    1

Complete Game(s) For The Win(s)
Pepper Gay earned her 11th complete game victory of the season against Western Illinois, 5-1, on April 17. Gay has tossed four complete-game shutouts this year, earning four of her 14 wins in the process. Gay added seven more complete game victories this season with wins over UMass, New Mexico State, UNLV, Boston University, Eastern Illinois, Wisconsin and Western Illinois.

Thirteen of Illinois' 19 victories this year have come when a member of the Orange and Blue pitching staff goes the distance in the contest. Jackie Guy recorded the two additional total-contest shutout efforts, going five innings in a mercy-rule shortened win over Michigan State, allowing one hit, before limiting Tennessee-Chattanooga to a pair of singles during seven innings of work.

Four Years At First Base
In her fourth seasons as a starter, senior Meredith Hackett has started 180 of a possible 187 games at first base, accruing a streak of more than 140 consecutive starts. During the previous three seasons, Hackett missed one game due to injury (vs. DePaul, May 5, 2011) and was limited to pinch-hitting duties in the game prior against Iowa on May 4, 2011. Hackett also did not appear in the most recent contests against Eastern Illinois, Wisconsin and Western Illinois due to personal reasons. At first base, Hackett has consistently been a sure-handed player, earning a .984 career fielding percentage behind 1,048 putouts and 58 assists in 1,124 total chances, the third-most in Illini history. For her career at the plate, the 2010 NFCA First Team All-American is a top-five leader among all-time Illini in seven major offensive categories, including standing first in slugging percentage (.629), second in home runs (39), third in on-base percentage (.433) and doubles (42), fourth in RBIs (143) and fifth in total bases (330) and walks (86).

Comeback Kids
In 2012, The Orange and Blue have come away victorious in seven contests during which they trailed their opponent. These wins are the difference between Illinois being 19-20 currently or 11-28 had they not completed the rallies. Below is a list of each game, the largest deficit erased, what inning Illinois trailed through and the final score.

Date    Opponent      Deficit    Inning        Final
2/25	Winthrop	1-0	 2 1/2	        3-2
3/3	UNLV	        2-0	 1	        3-2
3/4	Fla. Atlantic	6-1	 2	        7-6
3/16	Providence	1-0	 1/2	        3-1
3/16	Boston U.	3-0	 2 1/2	        5-4
3/17	Massachusetts	2-0	 3	        7-2
3/24	Minnesota	2-0	 4 1/2	        4-3
4/12	E. Illinois	1-0	 5 1/2	        4-1 (8)

Setting Them Down On Strikes
Starting pitcher Pepper Gay earned her first victory of the season in spectacular fashion, throwing an eight-inning complete game shutout over UAB. During the contest, Gay struck out 11 batters against allowing only two hits. The number of punchouts in the contest ranks tied for fifth in the Illinois record book for most strikeouts in a single contest, only two shy of tying Amanda Fortune's program mark of 13 against Virginia Tech on March 18, 2001. Gay currently ranks second behind Amanda Fortune (2001-04) on the career strikeouts listing at Illinois, with 411 in 457 1/3 innings of work with the Orange and Blue. On the current season, through games of April 17, Gay ranks fourth among all Big Ten pitchers with 150 strikeouts, while the junior is averaging 6.56 strikeouts per seven-inning game this year.

Mychko Earns B1G Player of the Week
Jenna Mychko tallied the first Big Ten Player of the Week honor of her career following an 8-for-18 (.444) weekend at the Eller Media Stadium Classic, hosted by UNLV. Mychko provided clutch hitting throughout, starting with all five RBIs against FAU on March 2, a contest during which Mychko hit a three-run double and a two-run, bottom of the seventh, two-out single that tied the contest. Mychko followed with the eventual winning RBI on a sacrifice fly out against the host-Rebels on March 3 before adding a game-winning solo home run against FAU during Illinois' six-run comeback win over the Owls on March 4. This marks Mychko's first weekly conference award and the first for the Illini this season.

Illini Win Program's, Sullivan's 400th
Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan totaled the 400th victory of her head coaching career in spectacular fashion during the USF Invitational, simultaneously securing the program's 400th as she is the only head coach in Illini softball history. After securing victory No. 399 with a 3-1 comeback win over Providence in their first game on Friday, March 16, the Illini rallied from a three-run deficit against Boston U. to secure No. 400.

Down, 3-0, through two frames, Illinois tallied lone runs in the third and fifth innings to pull within one before plating a trio in the sixth to take a 5-3 lead. Brittany Sanchez delivered a two-run single to put the Illini ahead while Nikki Simpson added the decisive hit with a two-out RBI single in the same frame.

Taking One For The Team
Senior third baseman Kelley Wedel was struck by a pair of pitches against No. 10 Tennessee to move into first place all-time on the Illini hits by pitch listing, with 37. Wedel already owns a tie for the single-season mark for plunkings (14). An aggressive hitter who does not back off the plate, Wedel was struck by seven pitches as a freshman in 2009 before being hit 13 times in 2010 and 14 more in 2011.

World's Largest Softball Tailgate IX
Illinois will host World's Largest Softball Tailgate IX against Penn State on Saturday, May 5, when the Nittany Lions travel to Urbana for a doubleheader. World's Largest Softball Tailgate, organized by Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics administrative representatives, provides a fun family atmosphere full of live music, inflatable games, face painting and, of course, lots of softball and tailgating. The event has drawn over 1,000 fans to Eichelberger Field on four occasions, setting the single-game attendance record on April 28, 2007 against DePaul when 1,445 people arrived to support the Orange and Blue. Admission and parking to the games, as well as each contest played on Eichelberger Field in 2012, are free to all.

Illinois swept competition with Western Illinois, 3-2 and 2-0, during the most recent World's Largest Softball Tailgate event, held on May 7, 2011. In game one, Jessica Davis went 2-for-3 with a run scored and Danielle Vaji finished 1-for-2 with an RBI-triple while scoring the tying run in the second inning. Pepper Gay was masterful in the circle throughout the day, striking out 13 while only allowing two hits over 11 2/3 innings of work, earning both victories.

Detrick Re-Joins Illini
After transferring to Eastern Illinois for her junior year, Linnea Detrick has returned to the University of Illinois and the Illini softball program. Detrick played her freshman and sophomore seasons with the Orange and Blue before departing for Eastern Illinois. Having transferred once before, Detrick will have to sit out the 2012 season as per NCAA policies and will be eligible as a redshirt-senior in 2013.