Softball Heads to East Lansing for Big Ten Series
April 25, 2013
ILLINI SWEEP IOWA, WIN FIFTH STRAIGHT
The Illini extended their winning streak to five straight with a doubleheader sweep at Iowa on April 23. A two-run homer in the bottom of the first gave the Hawkeyes an early lead, but the Illini erased the deficit and then some in the top of the second, scoring a season-high eight runs in the inning, going on to win it, 8-5.
The Orange and Blue kept it going in the second game, putting up a three spot in the third to take an early lead. The Hawkeyes scored two in the bottom half, but a three run sixth off Jessica Davis' second double of the game and Kylie Johnson's first career triple gave Illinois some insurance, finishing the night with a 6-3 final.
The Illini collected 21 hits and 14 runs in the pair of games, and all nine Illini in the batting order had a hit and scored on the night. Additonally, seven different Illini drove in a run.
ARNOLD NAMED BIG TEN PITCHER OF THE WEEK
Sophomore hurler Shelese Arnold was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week on April 22 after throwing back-to-back two-hit shutouts against Indiana to lead the Illini to a sweep of the Hoosiers.
Arnold was nearly flawless in the circle, holding the Hoosiers to just four hits and two walks in 13 innings of scoreless play. She got the start in game two of the series, and despite the offense mustering just one run--which didn't come until the sixth inning--her outstanding composure in the circle allowed the Illini to hold on for the 1-0 victory.
The Lexington, Tenn., continued to dominate in the series finale, retiring the first two batters of every inning and allowing just three two-out baserunners. The Illini bats exploded in the final game of the series, cutting Arnold's start short in the 8-0 run rule victory.
In 13 innings in the circle, Arnold allowed just four hits, two walks and a hit batter. No Indiana runner advanced past second base, and the Hoosiers never had more than one runner on base in any given inning.
The sophomore is having a fantastic season for the Illini, owning a 2.62 ERA in 22 appearances, allowing just 40 earned runs over 106.2 innings, while striking out 65. She ranks fourth in the Big Ten in earned runs allowed and is one of just three conference pitchers to not allow a triple all season.
ILLINI SWEEP INDIANA IN WALK-OFF FASHION
After opening the conference slate 1-11, the Fighting Illini swept the three-game series with Indiana on April 20-21 to move up three spots to ninth in the Big Ten standings. The Illini opened up a 4-0 lead after three innings in game one, but the Hoosiers came back to tie it in the fifth as the leadoff batter got on by error, then Indiana capitalized with a double and a homer. Pepper Gay kept her composure in the circle, stranding a leadoff double in the top of the seventh to keep the Illini from falling behind. The Illini couldn't score in the bottom half, sending the game into extras. Gay set the Hoosiers down in order, and Jessica Davis hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth to give the Illini a 5-4 victory.
The Orange and Blue struggled with runners on in game two of the series, but a dominating performance by Shelese Arnold in the circle held the Hoosiers to two hits, keeping the Illini in the game. Remeny Perez belted a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth to finally give the Illini a lead, and Arnold was perfect in the seveth to earn her first career shutout and hand the Illini a 1-0 victory.
Arnold did it again in the series finale, throwing her second-straight two-hit shutout, en route to earning her first career Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honor. The Illini bats erupted for eight hits, and the Orange and Blue scored in every inning in which they had a baserunner--which was four out of six. Seven different Illini recorded hits in the game, with Jess Perkins starting it off with a massive two-run homer in the first. Alex Booker never made an out, going 2-for-2 with a walk, two runs and an RBI, and the Illini defeated Indiana 8-0 in six innings.
Alex Booker has been a huge jumpstart for the Illini offense all season long. In 27 starts at leadoff, she reached base 13 times with nine hits, three walks and an error. She has led the Illini at the plate all season long, currently hitting .371 with a .432 on base percentage. She ranks sixth in the Big Ten in stolen bases, going 17-for-18 on the year. Her .944 efficiency is the third highest ever in Illini history.
The junior leftfielder moved to the three hole on April 20 for the Indiana series, where she proceeded to go 6-for-9 with a 1.000 slugging percentage. She was a home run shy of the cycle in the first game, slugging her first career triple, and stole two bases on the weekend. Additionally, she went 3-for-3 with runners in scoring position. Booker kept it going against Iowa, going 3-for-7 with a walk, two runs and two RBI, carrying an eight-game hitting streak into the Michigan State series.
The Gurnee, Ill., native has been spectacular in left field. She has not recorded an error in 72 chances this season, and has a total of six outfield assists, throwing out multiple runners at home plate.
GAY AMONG NCAA ACTIVE CAREER LEADERS
Senior pitcher Pepper Gay has already broken two Illinois records this year and sits in the top 50 among active Division I players in eight different statistical categories. The hurler has the fourth-most complete games (61) and 10th-most starts (106). She ranks 17th in appearances (144), 27th in wins (66) and 28th in innings pitched (664.0). Her school-record 564 strikeouts ranks 39th, and she is in 48th in both shutouts (15) and saves (6).
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, the 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 in several more. The slugger is sixth in hit by pitch (14), seventh in home runs (25), eighth in slugging percentage (.490), ninth in on base percentage (.373) and 10th in triples (3). She also ranks in the top 15 in batting average, runs scored, RBI, walks, total bases and assists.
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 of 16 double plays, ranking third in the Big Ten and 29th in the nation. Moreover, their seven DP in conference play ranks fourth in the Big Ten.
DOMINATING ON THE BASE PATHS
The Fighting Illini's run game has been exceptional this year, entering the week ranked 47th 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 eight runners caught.
Alex Booker ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 17-of-18 swipes, and Kylie Johnson is close behind in 11th in the Big Ten, stealing 15 of 18. Additionally, Booker ranks eighth with five stolen bases in conference play.
With seven regular season games still to play, Johnson and Booker are already vaulting up the charts. Booker is in third all-time with her season SB% of .944 and in ninth in total SB. Johnson isn't far behind, sitting in 15th with her 15 swipes. Additionally, midway through her junior year, Booker sits in eighth all-time in career stolen bases (29) and in sixth in SB% (.805).
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 have each thrown out six runners, as Detrick ranks second in the Big Ten with all six coming in Big Ten Play. In the circle, Shelese Arnold is tied for fifth in the Big Ten with eight caught runners, while Pepper Gay is tied for 11th with seven.
ILLINOIS HAS 16TH-TOUGHEST SCHEDULE
Illinois has a tough task this season, with 12 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 16th-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.
The Illini took down Iowa in a doubleheader on April 23; the Hawkeyes were ranked #22 in the RPI and received votes in that week's ESPN.com poll.
They will conclude the season against three unranked teams, however Ohio State did receive votes in some early season polls.
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.
GAY BREAKS STRIKEOUTS, STARTS RECORDS
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.
On April 23, 2013, Gay started her 106th career game, passing Fortune for the most starts by an Illini pitcher in school history.