Softball to Battle In-State Rival DePaul on Tuesday

Senior first baseman Meredith Hackett returned from a five-game absence to help pace the offense against Purdue, finishing with a pair of home runs and six RBIs on the three-game series.
Senior first baseman Meredith Hackett returned from a five-game absence to help pace the offense against Purdue, finishing with a pair of home runs and six RBIs on the three-game series.

April 23, 2012

University of Illinois Softball Notes

Illinois (21-21 overall) at DePaul (26-17)
Tuesday, April 24 // Cacciatore Stadium // Chicago, Ill. // 4 p.m. CT

Printable Notes: Illinois Get Acrobat Reader
Video (purchasable): DePaul All-Access
Live Stats: GameTracker
Illinois-DePaul Series: DePaul leads, 12-7-1
Last Meeting: L, 2-0 in Urbana, Ill., on May 4, 2011
Overall Streak: L 1
Away Streak: L 3

Quick Hits
In 2012, Illinois is...
• 16-1 when leading after six innings.
• 17-5 when scoring at least three runs.
• 15-4 when allowing two or fewer runs.
• 15-5 in games decided by two or fewer runs.
• 13-3 when scoring the first run of the game.
• 9-1 when playing perfect defense.

Opponent Insider
Illinois travels to face a DePaul team that enters the contest at 26-17 overall and 8-6 in Big East competition, while the Blue Demons are 4-2 at home on the year and have lost four consecutive contests, all on the road.

Kirsten Verdun returns as the DePaul pitching staff ace, tossing 169 of a possible 279 2/3 innings for the Blue Demons, securing an 18-10 record with 21 complete games and five shutouts. Verdun has given up 134 hits and issued 44 walks, striking out 159 while allowing 43 earned runs, 22 doubles and eight home runs while opponents are batting .216 batting average against. A trio of hurlers have combined to finish out the remaining 110 innings, with Bree Brown (5-4 record; 2.80 ERA) seeing the next most time, with 55 innings. Hannah Penna (3-2; 3.23) follows with 43 1/3 frames in the circle while Mary Connolly (0-1; 9.65) rounds out the bunch with 12 1/3 innings.

As a unit, the DePaul staff owns a 2.55 ERA with 29 complete games and 11 shutouts. The Blue Demons have allowed 245 hits and 102 earned runs while foes hit .234 on average with 41 doubles and 21 home runs.

Five DePaul hitters are connecting over .300 on the season; however, leading hitter Megan Coronado (.395; 17-for-43) was not available during the most recent series with Notre Dame and has only played 14 games on the season. Verdun follows with a .362 clip (46-for-127), including a team-leading 11 doubles, nine home runs and 18 walks to go with 19 runs scored and six stolen bases in as many attempts. Verdun also sports the highest slugging percentage (661) of all Blue Demons and is second in on-base percentage to Coronado with a .449 mark. Samantha Dodd follows closely with 45 hits in 125 at bats (.360), with 25 runs scored, 13 RBIs, six doubles and 10 walks drawn. Connolly (.310; 39-for-126) and Braden (.301; 31-for-103) round out the hitting core that connects at least 30 percent of the time.

As a whole, the DePaul offense has tallied a .279 batting average (318-for-1139) with 49 doubles and 31 home runs, earning 163 RBIs while drawing 100 walks and striking out 186 times. In the field, DePaul has played clean softball defensively, sporting a .975 fielding percentage while no fielding player has made more than five errors individually through 43 games.

The last time out, DePaul avenged a pair of 2010 NCAA Tournament losses to the Illini with a win over the Orange and Blue, 2-0, during the 2011 regular season. Hollie Pinchback went 2-for-3 and Danielle Zymkowitz added a hit and a stolen base; however, the bats were never able to break through. Jackie Guy was stuck for the loss despite only allowing one earned run in the complete game effort, striking out three without issuing a walk during the contest.

Purdue Series Recap
Illinois took 2-of-3 from Purdue at Eichelberger Field on April 21-22, securing the series win with a 8-6 win on Sunday after taking game one, 3-1, on Saturday before Purdue rallied for a 4-2 victory in the second half of the April 21 doubleheader. In the first contest, Illinois struck first with a run in the bottom of the first inning to go ahead, 1-0. With one away, Jessica Davis knocked a double to the left-center field wall, the fourth of the season for the shortstop. Two batters later, Jess Perkins grounded a bouncing ball to Purdue shortstop Molly Garst, with Garst's offline throw to first allowing Davis to hustle home to break the scoreless tie. In the third, Meredith Hackett added two more runs to the Orange and Blue lead with the senior's eight homer of the season.

To get their lone win on the weekend, the Boilermakers broke through for three runs in the top of the seventh to secure game two, 4-2. With one out and the bases loaded, Garst sent a two-run single to right field to put Purdue in front, 3-2, while Varsho followed with a run-scoring base hit to third to reach the final score.

Illinois tallied individual runs in the second and third to go ahead of the Boilermakers early, 2-0. To tally the first, freshman second baseman Jami Schkade singled through the middle of the infield with one away and advanced to second when junior pitcher Jackie Guy reached on a fielder's choice to shortstop. Senior Nikki Simpson moved each runner up one base with a ground out to second before Booker singled to third to put Illinois ahead by one run.

In the next frame, Hackett walked with one away and was replaced by freshman pinch runner Lauren Loies. Perkins followed with a double to the left-center field wall, plating Loies from first to double the Orange and Blue lead.

In the final game, Hackett finished 2-for-4 with a run scored and four RBIs while redshirt-senior left fielder Danielle Vaji added a two-run double and junior relief pitcher Jackie Guy tossed three shutout innings to earn the save.

The Boilermakers (28-15 overall, 10-4 Big Ten) struck for an early lead with a pair of runs in the top of the first. Leadoff hitter Molly Garst knocked a line-drive home run over the right field wall before Lindsey Rains added an RBI-single three batters later to double the Purdue lead.

However, the Orange and Blue offense rallied immediately, plating three runs with two away in the bottom of the opening frame to go in front, 3-2. Vaji sent a two-run, first-pitch double off the base of the left field wall. Freshman second baseman Jami Schkade continued the two-out scoring streak with a single through the left side of the infield, plating Vaji for the 3-2 advantage. Hackett helped the Illini break the contest open with a grand slam in the following inning, taking a 7-2 lead in the process.

Illinois tallied an insurance run in the bottom of the fourth to reach the final score, 8-6, with a wild pitch scoring Davis from third.

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 	        L, 0-8
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 W, 5-1 April 21 Purdue (DH) W, 3-1 // L, 2-4 May 2 Southern Illinois 4 p.m. May 6 Penn State 2 p.m.

Illini Sports Network - WDWS 1400AM (CT) April 4 Illinois State L, 0-1 April 14 Wisconsin L, 0-8 April 21 Purdue (Game 1) W, 3-1 May 5 Penn State (Game 1) 1 p.m.

Upcoming Softball Promotions
With four 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

Screen-Free Week // Student Home Run Derby - Wed., May 2
Illinois women's basketball head coach Matt Bollant will throw out the first pitch on Wednesday, May 2 while kids will be given the chance to run the bases following the game. There will be an Illinois student HR derby after the contest, with five participants who sign up at the game chosen following the fourth inning. The winner will be given a VIP World's Largest Softball Tailgate, including a reserved parking spot, dinner with a guest at the On-Deck Circle and a clubhouse tour.

World's Largest Softball Tailgate - Saturday, May 5
Illinois will host the ninth-annual World's Largest Softball Tailgate on Saturday, May 5 against Penn State. Fans are encouraged to arrive early as inflatable games, face painting and live music will be provided for all tailgaters beginning at 11 a.m. CT. Marketing Coordinator Brooke Buzard will also be completing periodic giveaways at Eichelberger Field during the day's events.

Full Promotion Schedule
May 2 -- Screen-Free Week; Illini student home run derby
May 5 -- World's Largest Softball Tailgate IX
May 6 -- Senior Day

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 .271 (118-for-436) with 13 doubles and four triples while scoring 81 runs, driving in 34 more, drawing 56 walks and stealing 18 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	    22	    4	    26
Pinch Runner	    -	    23	    23
Second Base	    16	    2	    18
Pinch Hitter	    -	    15	    15
First Base	    5	    -	    5
Right Field	    2	    1	    3

Four Years At First Base
In her fourth seasons as a starter, senior Meredith Hackett has started 183 of a possible 190 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 five contests for personal reasons during the 2012 season.

At first base, Hackett has consistently been a sure-handed player, earning a .983 career fielding percentage behind 1,064 putouts and 61 assists in 1,144 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 (.620), second in home runs (41), third in on-base percentage (.437) and doubles (42), fourth in RBIs (149) and fifth in total bases (339) and walks (90).

Comeback Kids
In 2012, The Orange and Blue have come away victorious in nine contests during which they trailed their opponent. These wins are the difference between Illinois being 21-21 currently or 12-30 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)
4/22	Purdue  	2-0	 1/2	        8-6

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 423 in 471 1/3 innings of work with the Orange and Blue. On the current season, through games of April 17, Gay ranks third among all Big Ten pitchers with 162 strikeouts, while the junior is averaging 6.28 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.