Illini Travel to Michigan for Big Ten Network Showdown

Redshirt-junior Jessica Davis has hit safely in seven of the previous nine contests with six runs scored and four RBIs.
Redshirt-junior Jessica Davis has hit safely in seven of the previous nine contests with six runs scored and four RBIs.

April 26, 2012

University of Illinois Softball Notes

Illinois (21-22, 5-10 B1G) at #22 Michigan (32-13, 12-3)
Saturday, April 28 // Wilpon Complex // Ann Arbor, Mich. // 2:30/4:30 p.m. CT
Sunday, April 29 // Wilpon Complex // Ann Arbor, Mich. // 1 p.m. CT

Printable Notes: Illinois Get Acrobat Reader | Michigan Get Acrobat Reader
Television: Big Ten Network (Saturday-only; Marney Gellner & Heather Lyke)
Live Stats: Game One | Game Two | Game Three
Live Blog: Available on (Sunday-only)
Illinois-Michigan Series: Michigan leads, 18-3
Last Meeting: L, 6-8, in Urbana, Ill., on April 17, 2011
Overall Streak: L 8
Away Streak: L 7

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 heads to Michigan to face the Wolverines at Wilpon Complex for a trio of games on Saturday and Sunday, April 28-29. Michigan enters the weekend with a 32-13 record overall and a Big Ten-leading mark of 12-3 in conference action while sporting a 7-1 home record.

With the graduation of three-time NFCA All-American starting pitcher Jordan Taylor, the Wolverines have an emerging ace in Haylie Wagner, who sports a 23-5 record and 1.47 ERA as a freshman. Wagner has appeared in 36 games, making 23 starts while tossing 20 complete games with 36 earned runs allowed on 120 hits and 31 walks. Opponents are hitting .194 against Wagner, while the Orange, Calif., native owns 112 strikeouts in 171 innings this season. Wagner has been particularly effective against Big Ten opponents, tallying a 10-1 record and 1.71 ERA in 14 appearances, throwing nine complete games while holding the opposition to 18 earned runs on 49 hits and 14 walks spread over 73 2/3 innings.

Sara Driesenga completes the duo of Wolverines that carry the majority of the pitching duties. Driesenga has tossed 107 1/3 innings, owning a 2.41 ERA and 8-8 record through 23 appearances, including 20 starts and seven complete games. Foes have struck for a .256 batting average against Driesenga, with the pitcher giving up 107 hits to go with 38 walks and 37 earned runs, striking out 55 batters. Stephanie Speierman (1.75 ERA, 1-0 record) and Hilary Payne (2.62, 0-0) have recorded the final 18 2/3 innings the Michigan staff has pitched as a unit, with Speierman tossing 16 frames while Payne has completed 2 2/3 innings in the circle. In total, the Michigan staff owns a 1.84 ERA with 28 complete games and nine shutouts, allowing 241 hits and 77 walks in 297 innings as opponents hit .218 combined.

Driesenga has been a leader at the plate in addition to duties in the circle, sparking the team in 23 appearances with a .385 batting average (25-for-65) to go with 14 RBIs, 11 runs scored, 10 walks, five home runs and a pair of doubles. Amanda Chidester follows with 47 hits in 132 at bats (.356), owning a team-high 12 doubles, 24 walks and 37 RBIs to go with 28 runs scored, eight home runs, a .644 slugging percentage and a .459 on-base percentage. Nicole Sappingfield has added a .324 mark (44-for-136) with 22 runs scored and 13 RBIs while Lauren Sweet is hitting .300 on 36 base knocks in 120 at bats, knocking nine doubles and six home runs to help earn a .525 slugging percentage and .368 on-base mark.

As a team, Michigan bats .289 (345-for-1193) with 52 doubles and 40 home runs, out-slugging opponents, .437-to-.301 while earning a combined .371 on-base mark, 139 walks and 34 stolen bases in 41 attempts. Michigan has improved its offensive numbers during Big Ten play, owning a .338 team batting average through 15 contests, with 21 doubles and 18 home runs with finishing success in 13-of-14 stolen base attempts and drawing 56 walks against 52 strikeouts. Chidester leads the way with a .488 batting average (20-for-41), while seven of the nine starters are hitting at least .300 against conference opponents.

Last season, Illinois became the first team to score six or more runs against the Wolverines on the year and the only team to do it twice in losses in Urbana, Ill., 8-6 and 9-7, on Sunday, April 17. For the Illini, Danielle Zymkowitz batted .714 (5-for-7) with three runs scored, a double and RBI and one walk drawn to secure a .750 on-base percentage. Jessica Davis found similar success, going 4-for-6 with three RBIs on two home runs while scoring two runs and mirroring Zymkowitz's on-base mark courtesy of two hit by pitches. Jackie Guy finished the twinbill batting .500 (2-for-4) with her first collegiate home run while Meredith Hackett added three hits, three RBIs and two runs scored.

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

DePaul Recap
The Illini softball team was unable to overcome three runs allowed in the bottom of the first, falling to DePaul, 3-0, at Cacciatore Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. Sophomore left and center fielder Alex Booker and freshman third baseman Jess Perkins each totaled one hit during the contest, while redshirt-senior left and right fielder Danielle Vaji drew a pair of walks.

The Blue Demons totaled three runs in the bottom of the first inning to complete scoring in the contest. Starting pitcher Kirsten Verdun singled in the first runner before Connolly tallied an RBI-double to left field and Braget knocked a run-scoring base hit to right field. Connolly attempted to score from second on the play; however, Vaji threw home to junior catcher Stephanie Cuevas, who tagged Connolly out at the plate.

Illinois had the opportunity to break the scoreless contest open in the top of the first, loading the bases with two away. Three batters into the inning, senior first baseman Meredith Hackett drew a walk before Perkins singled to third base. After both runners moved up one base on a passed ball, Vaji drew the second base on balls issued by Verdun in the frame; however, freshman second baseman Jami Schkade popped up to shortstop to silence the scoring opportunity.

The Illini also had chances to score in the third and fourth, putting a runner in scoring position in the third, with Booker opening the frame with a single and a stolen base. However, a strikeout of redshirt-junior Jessica Davis, fly out by Hackett and Perkins' ground out closed the frame with Booker stuck at second. In the following inning, Vaji walked as the leadoff hitter only to be erased two batters later on a caught stealing as sophomore pinch hitter and designated player Jenna Mychko struck out.

Junior right-hander Pepper Gay (16-13) started in the circle for Illinois, throwing a complete game while giving up three earned runs on eight hits and a walk, striking out four. Verdun (19-10) tallied the win with a two-hit performance, allowing three walks while setting down eight on strikes.

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, first base and right field 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 and pinch runner, while playing at least two and as many as six different positions in every healthy season.

For her career, which spans 195 games played and 150 starts, Vaji is hitting .270 (118-for-437) with 13 doubles and four triples while scoring 81 runs, driving in 34 more, drawing 58 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	    5	    27
Pinch Runner	    -	    23	    23
Second Base	    16	    2	    18
Pinch Hitter	    -	    15	    15
First Base	    5	    -	    5
Right Field	    3	    1	    4

Four Years At First Base
In her fourth seasons as a starter, senior Meredith Hackett has started 184 of a possible 191 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 .984 career fielding percentage behind 1,072 putouts and 62 assists in 1,153 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 (.635), second in home runs (41), third in on-base percentage (.436) and doubles (42), fourth in RBIs (149), tied for fourth in walks (91) and fifth in total bases (339).

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 21-22 currently or 12-31 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 427 in 477 1/3 innings of work with the Orange and Blue. On the current season, through games of April 24, Gay ranks third among all Big Ten pitchers with 166 strikeouts, while the junior is averaging 6.46 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.