Fighting Illini Set to Face Western Illinois at WLST

Pepper Gay limited the Iowa Hawkeyes offense to two hits and two runs over her complete game effort during the second game of the doubleheader on Wednesday, May 4.
Pepper Gay limited the Iowa Hawkeyes offense to two hits and two runs over her complete game effort during the second game of the doubleheader on Wednesday, May 4.

May 6, 2011

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World’s Largest Softball Tailgate & “Senior Day”

Illinois (24-21, 11-7 Big Ten) vs. Western Illinois (19-25, 14-10 Summit)

Eichelberger Field; Urbana, Ill.


Games 46-47: Saturday, May 7 // 1:00 & 3:30 p.m. CT
GameTracker: available on
Web Streaming: Big Ten Student U (both games)
Radio: WDWS 1400 AM - Illini Sports Network (game one only)

Illinois-W. Illinois Series: 0-1
Last Meeting: L, 5-4, in Urbana, Ill. (4/25/07)
Streak: L 1

Opponent Insider
Western Illinois travels to Eichelberger Field to face the Illini for a doubleheader during World’s Largest Softball Tailgate and Senior Day. The Leatherneck enter Urbana, Ill., having lost their previous three games, two against No.8-nationally ranked Missouri, 7-2 and 5-0, and another at South Dakota State, 9-7.

Erin Schlotfeldt leads Western Illinois with a .409 batting average as one of six Lethernecks regulars hitting at least .300 on the season. Schlotfeldt has 45 hits in 110 at bats, including 10 doubles, seven homers and two triples. Schlotfeldt also leads the team in slugging percentage, .727, while accumulating 35 RBIs and 18 runs scored. Nikki Marinec follows with a .368 clip with seven homers and six doubles among 39 total hits. Jamie Gross, Western Illinois’ leader in RBIs (47), is third for average at .333 and is one of only two Leathernecks to play in all 44 games on the season. Colleen Biebel (.329), Beth Golitko (.326) and Megan Kelley (.304) round out the core of Leathernecks with at least a .300 batting average.

Western Illinois’ pitching staff has not found as much success as its offense as the staff sports a combined ERA of 5.45 over 272.1 innings. Hailey Bickford has thrown the most frames to this point in the season, giving up 74 earned runs in 115.1 innings for a 4.49 ERA. Kelsey Michelini (6.03 ERA) has seen the second-most time in the circle, tossing 110.1 frames while giving up 95 earned runs on 163 hits and 80 walks. No Letherneck’s pitcher currently owns a winner record on the season, as Bickford is the closest at 9-9 overall. Michelini is 6-11 while Ashley Campbell is 4-5 with 45.1 innings pitched.

When the Leathernecks faced Missouri in their two most recent contests, Bickford took the loss in both contests, totaling seven and 2/3 innings of work - allowing 11 runs on 17 hits and three walks. Michelini closed both games for Western Illinois, tallying 4 and 1/3 innings of two-hit, one-run softball. Marinec, Biebel and Goss each connected for one hit in game one, with Goss earning the only Leatherneck RBI of the game as the Indianapolis, Ind., native finished with a 1-for-2, one RBI, one walk batter’s line. In the second game, Schlotfeldt and Bickford recorded one hit each as the Leathernecks dangerous offense was silence yet again.

Western Illinois and the Orange and Blue have only ever met one time in the history of the programs. On April 25, 2007, Western Illinois traveled to Urbana, Ill., and came away with 5-4 victory. Ashley Wright started for Illinois, giving up five runs in three innings of work. Claire DeVreese relieved Wright to start the fourth and closed the contest with four scoreless innings of work. Current team manager Makenzie Smith tallied a run scored on a walk while Lana Armstrong, Kisten Martin, and Molly Lawhead accounting for one RBI each.

Weekly Recap
The Illini swept Northwestern for the third consecutive season with a walk-off win on Saturday, April 30 and an all-around team performance on Sunday, May 1. The Illini then traveled to Iowa on Wednesday, May 4 to earn two victories, 8-2 and 6-2, before falling against DePaul, 2-0, on Thursday, May 5.

The University of Illinois Softball squad grabbed its first walk-off home run of the season on Saturday, April 30 as the Illini earned a 5-4 victory over Northwestern live on the Big Ten Network. Down, 4-3, entering the bottom of the seventh, Hollie Pinchback drove the first pitch of her at bat over the center field fence with Danielle Zymkowitz on first base to end the contest. Pinchback also hit a solo shot as part of a three-run third frame for Illinois.

The Illini claimed their third consecutive series sweep of the Northwestern Wildcats on Sunday, May 1, taking the weekend finale, 5-3. Pinchback slugged her third homer in the past two contests as part of a 4-for-7, 5 RBI match up with the Wildcats’ staff over both games.

The Orange and Blue opened scoring with a two-run opening inning. Meredith Hackett reached on a fielder’s choice to put a runner on first with two outs before Jessica Davis doubled the Corona, Calif., native to third. Kelley Wedel followed Davis with a two-RBI single through the right side of the infield to earn the two-run advantage. Illinois responded with two more runs in the bottom of the third to take a 4-1 advantage. Zymkowitz led off the frame with a single up the middle before Pinchback slugged her third homer of the series, sending the final pitch of Lamberth’s afternoon in the circle over the center field fence. A wild pitch scored the final Illini run, with Davis racing home and sliding under a tag attempt.

Illinois opened the first contest of the day with three runs over the first two innings en route to the 8-2 win, while Jackie Guy did not allow a hit in the circle until the fourth inning. Zymkowitz led the Orange and Blue at the plate with a 4-for-4 performance, including an inside-the-park home run, three runs scored and three RBIs.

In the doubleheader finale, Zymkowitz and Danielle Vaji each provided multi-hit games, with Zymkowitz a run score in addition to two RBIs during the crucial four-run second inning. Pepper Gay went the distance for Illinois, only allowing two runs on two hits during the contest while striking out six Hawkeyes. After Gay gave up a fourth-inning homer, the Avondale Estates, Ga., native did not allow another base hit over the remainder of the contest.

DePaul scored individual runs in the fourth and sixth innings to create the difference in Thursday’s game. In the fourth, Allie Braden earned an RBI with the bases loaded on a fielder’s choice as the Illini attempted unsuccessfully to catch Lynsey Ciezki racing home from third on the play. Two innings later, Braden hit a sacrifice fly out to center field, with Megan Coronado advancing home on the throw.

It’s That Time of the Year Again!
Illinois Softball will host the eighth-annual World’s Largest Softball Tailgate (WLST) against Western Illinois on Saturday, May 7, marking the second occasion the event will be held against a non-conference opponent.

Admission and parking will be free. Tailgating lots will open at 8 a.m. on Saturday to begin letting fans set up in the parking lots. Live music and inflatable games and rides will become available for fans around 11:00 a.m., while the first 150 fans through the gates to Eichelberger Field will be rewarded for their early arrival with free t-shirts courtesy of the On-Deck Circle, the Illini Softball booster club. Fans will be issues a raffle ticket once gates open, which will correspond with giveaways drawn at random between every inning. Children in attendance will have the opportunity to sign up for a kids-only giveaway contest, which is set to occur simultaneously.

World’s Largest Softball Tailgate, which earned the Big Ten Conference’s award for the best single-game promotion for an Olympic sport during the 2006-07 school year, began with a victory over Ohio State, 1-0, on April 24, 2004. 2006 First Team All-American Jenna Hall provided the difference in the game, delivering an RBI-single in the first inning. With an average attendance of about 1,000 fans, World’s Largest Softball Tailgate continues to be one of the most successful single-game events on the U of I campus.

In the most recent WLST, the top three batters of the lineup got the Illinois offense going, finishing the day 7-for-11 with five RBIs and five runs scored. First baseman Meredith Hackett produced two home runs and four RBIs while second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz went 3-for-4 with two runs scored as the Illini pounded on Wisconsin early, plating two runners in the first and four in the second. Hope Howell went 2-for-3 with one RBI and one run scored as well.

A record-number 1,445 fans attended WLST on April 24, 2007 when Illinois narrowly fell to DePaul, 3-2. Designated player Katrina Ross put on a show for the crowd regardless, hitting her first career home run. Ross’ two-run shot put the Illini ahead, 2-1, in the fourth inning; however, the Blue Demons were able to fight back to come away with the victory.

Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award Recognition
Senior second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz was selected as one of 10 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award finalists on Monday, March 28. Zymkowitz was one of only two players from the Big Ten chosen as a candidate, with Zymkowitz joined by Michigan’s Dorian Shaw on the ballot.

In 2011, Zymkowitz continues to steal bases at a program-best rate, finding success on 20-of-25 attempts. Against Longwood on March 4, Zymkowitz broke the program record for career runs scored, needing only 175 games to record her 168th run, besting Angelena Mexicano’s program total of 167. Zymkowitz claimed another top spot against Iowa on May 4, swiping her 88th career bag to become the stolen base leader in Illinois history. The West Hills, Calif., native also continues her streak of consecutive starts throughout 2011, securing second base for the Illini in all 45 games this year to total 206 consecutive starts at second since her freshman season at Illinois in 2008. Zymkowitz also sits among current NCAA leaders in triples and runs scored per game. In the most recent NCAA statistical update through games of May 3, the 2009 All-American is tied with three other players for sixth in the nation for triples, with six, while she is 17th overall in runs per game with 45 in 42 games played (1.07).

Last year, Zymkowitz earned her second consecutive All-Big Ten First Team award after finishing with a .409 batting average and a single-season Illinois record of 76 hits, while the Chaminade College Prep graduate scored 59 runs to go with 23 RBIs and 93 total bases. Zymkowitz’s hits, runs scored, RBIs, total bases and stolen base (36) marks on the season all bested her 2009 All-America numbers, while her stolen bases total ranked first in single season thefts in Illini history.

Zymkowitz sports a .388 career batting average, the highest in Illinois softball history. Zymkowitz is also the career leader in stolen base percentage, finding success on 90 of 105 attempts (.853). In total, Zymkowitz is also featured on 13 more Illinois career lists, including highest on-base percentage, most hits and most runs scored.

In addition to her work on the field, Zymkowitz remains active in the community through the Illini Jock Jams fundraiser, the Hometown Heroes outreach program and visits to the Cantebury Ridge assisted living community. Also, Zymkowitz continues to be a leader on the Illinois softball team, receiving the Illini Igniter and Power Awards following the 2010 campaign. The Illini Igniter Award was given in recognition of her ability to get the team in game mode and keep the “fire” throughout the contest while the Illini Power Award was earned due to her hard work in practice and in the weight room to set the standards for Illinois players.

All I Do Is Hit, Hit, Hit No Matter What
Danielle Zymkowitz has connected at an outstanding rate against Big Ten pitchers during the 2011 conference slate to earn a Big Ten-specific average of .614 (35-for-57). Zymkowitz’s 20 runs scored and 35 hits leads the conference, while she is also third in Big Ten games for on-base percentage (.681) courtesy of 11 walks and one hit by pitch. Zymkowitz was particularly effective for a stretch of four games, one each against Ohio State and #2 Michigan separated by a doubleheader at Purdue. During these games, Zymkowitz went 12-for-15 (.800) with eight runs scored and five RBIs - including a 4-for-4 game against Wolverines’ All-American Jordan Taylor. In 18 conference games, Zymkowitz has at least one base knock in 16 of the Big Ten games, including multi-hit performances in 12 contests.

Finding Ways On
Junior Meredith Hackett (25 walks), seniors Ashley Conrad (25), Audrey Gallien (21) and Danielle Zymkowitz (20) and redshirt sophomore Jessica Davis (19) have combined to earn 69 percent of the team’s bases on balls (110-of-165) this season. In addition to their hits, Hackett and Davis have been struck by four pitches while Conrad was hit three times and Gallien and Zymkowitz once. Currently, Zymkowitz leads the Orange and Blue with a .511 on-base percentage, Hackett is second with a .456 on-base mark, Conrad places third at .431, Davis earns fourth by reaching 41.9% of the time the Zephyrhills, Fla., native steps to the plate and Gallien is fifth at .387 in her final season.

No Easy Outs
Through the first 42 games, six Illini batters have hit at a rate of at least .280, earning a combined average of .328 (271-825) in the process. Danielle Zymkowitz leads the team with a .445 average following her strong play since opening the Big Ten season, as Zymkowitz sports the highest conference-only batting average (.614). Meredith Hackett is second on the team at .341, connecting for 43 hits in 126 at bats, including a Big Ten-leading 15 doubles. Jessica Davis earned her way to .321 following 19 hits in 52 at bats (.365) against Big Ten pitchers, while Danielle Vaji (.285), Hollie Pinchback (.284) and Kelley Wedel (.281) round out the Illini hitters connecting for base knocks in at least 28 percent of their at bats.

As a team, Illinois earned a .303 clip, good for third among Big Ten Conference squads. Within the Big Ten, Illinois is third or higher in all of the following categories: runs (248), triples (12), RBI’s (215), sacrifice fly outs (3) and hit by pitches (34).

Holding Down The Fort
Four Illini have compiled consecutive games started streaks of at least 130 contests, the only team in NCAA Division-I softball with four such players. Bethune-Cookman, Auburn, Marshall and Kansas are the only other softball programs in Division-I with at least three players with 100 or more consecutive starts, while Illinois is joined by Bethune-Cookman as the only school with at least three players who have not missed starting the previous 130 or more contests.

Senior Danielle Zymkowitz owns the 14th-longest games started streak, ending the DePaul game with 206 straight starts at second base. Zymkowitz’s current streak also accounts for the longest of any Big Ten Conference softball player. Classmate Hollie Pinchback (152) is second to Zymkowitz, beginning her streak near the end of her freshman season and continuing it through the previous three years. Kelley Wedel also owns consecutive games started streaks or 130 or more, with 138 consecutive starts in 141 games played. Meredith Hackett was the fourth member of the group with at least 130 start; however, her streak ended in the second game at Iowa on May 4 when Hackett did not start due to concerns over a potential leg injury. Hackett’s streak was halted at 142 consecutive games, dating back to the first contest she played when she arrived as a freshman.