Illini To Face Penn State in Big Ten Tournament
May 8, 2013
ILLINI CAPTURE SIXTH SEED FOR B1G TOURNEY
On April 19, Illinois sat in dead last in the conference standings at 1-11. Using their never-say-die attitude, the Fighting Illini fought their way all the way up to sixth place in the standings with a miraculous second-half comeback, winning 10 of the final 11 games to earn a favorable seed for the 2013 Big Ten Tournament.
The 2013 Big Ten Tournament returns for the first time since 2008. Illinois earns the sixth-seed for the third-straight time, claiming No. 6 in 2007 and 2008. The Big Ten Tournament became a single-elimination event in 2004, but this is the first time that all 12 members of the Big Ten are invited to participate.
The Illini are 7-10 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament, making it to the championship game in 2004. Illinois went 2-2 in 2001, finishing third, then went 2-2 as the six seed in 2002, finishing fourth. After a fifth-place finish in 2003, the Illini reached the championship game in 2004. Illinois lost in the first round in 2006-08 and will thus be looking for its first tournament win on Thursday since 2004.
2013 Big Ten Champion Michigan has a significant lead over the pack with eight Big Ten Tournament titles. Iowa and Northwestern have each won two, and Michigan State (2004), Ohio State (2007) and Minnesota (1999) are the remaining three teams to have a tournament title in the vault. Host team Nebraska, the newest member of the conference, is the only Big Ten school never to participate in a Big Ten Tournament.
ILLINI EARN FOUR BIG TEN POSTSEASON HONORS
Three Illini garnered Big Ten postseason honors. Alex Booker was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team, and she and second baseman Jami Schkade were among the 10 conference players named to the first-ever Big Ten All-Defensive Team. Illinois was one of just two teams to claim more than one spot on the All-Defensive squad. Additionally, Jenna Mychko received the Illini's Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.
Booker has had a fantastic season for the Illini on both offense and defense, leading the Orange and Blue at the plate with a .352 batting average and a .425 on base percentage. The speed demon has stolen 20 bases on just 21 attempts, becoming just the third Illini in school history to tab 20 swipes in a single season, while tying for second with a .952 efficiency. The Gurnee, Ill., native has put together a team-best 50 hits, 32 runs, 13 RBI, four doubles, a triple and 17 walks, while tabbing three sacrifice bunts.
Booker has been outstanding in leftfield, recording the most fielding chances in the Big Ten without recording an error, making 87 putouts and tallying seven outfield assists.
Jami Schkade joins Booker on the Big Ten All-Defensive Team after playing flawless defense in the middle infield throughout conference play. The Albany, Texas, native is the only Big Ten second baseman with a 1.000 fielding percentage in conference play. She made 31 putouts and 23 assists during Big Ten play, helping to turn a pair of Illini double plays.
Junior catcher Jenna Mychko represents the Fighting Illini with the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. She is "the ultimate team player," said Sullivan, who nominated the Union, Ill., native for this important honor. "Over the years, she's had some injuries that she's battled and they always seem to come at the worst possible time. This year she's just worked really hard. She wasn't in the starting lineup at the beginning of the year, but she earned it through hard work and producing.
"She really handles our pitchers well. It takes a lot of growth to handle those upperclassmen pitchers. Our pitches throw really differently, and I think she's a big reason why they're doing well."
WE'RE GOING STREAKING!
The Fighting Illini went on a 10-game winning streak from April 20 to May 3, which included nine conference victories, in order to claim the sixth seed for the Big Ten Tournament. It is the fifth time in school history that the Illini have tallied a double-digit winning streak, and is tied for the third-longing winning streak in program history. The Illini won a school-record 12 games straight at the end of the 2010 regular season, one of two 10+ game winning streaks that season.
Longest Illinois Winning Streaks
Additionally, the Illini's nine-game Big Ten winning streak is second only to the 13-straight conference games the Illini won to finish out the 2010 season. The Illini won the first two Big Ten matchups of 2011 for a total of 15-straight conference wins across the two seasons.
Longest Big Ten Winnings Streaks
BAUCH NAMED BIG TEN FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK (4/29)
For the second straight week, a member of the Fighting Illini earned a weekly award on April 29, as second baseman Allie Bauch was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Bauch hit .412 with a double, six RBI, four runs and two stolen bases to lead the Illini to a perfect, 5-0 week.
The first-year player started all five games as the designated player, then moved to second base in the middle innings when Katie Repole would replace 2B Jami Schkade in the lineup for offensive purposes. The Hoffman Estates, Ill., native had two hits, an RBI and scored twice in the doubleheader sweep at Iowa on April 23. She stole a base and scored in the first game of the Michigan State series, then went 3-for-3 with three RBI in game two. She finished out the weekend hitting 2-for-4 with a double, a run and two RBI in the series finale.
ARNOLD EARNS BIG TEN PITCHER OF THE WEEK (4/22)
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 2.75 ERA in 24 appearances, allowing just 46 earned runs over 117.0 innings, while striking out 66. 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.
MSU SWEEP EXTENDS WINNING STREAK TO 8
The Illini kept up their hot streak on April 26-28, going 3-0 at Michigan State to extend their winning streak to eight straight games. Directly following their program-long nine-game losing streak, the Illini have tied the sixth-longest winning streak, marking the first time since 2010 the Illini have won more than five games in a row.
Illinois used several big innings to defeat MSU, putting up a five spot in the first two games, then scoring three, three and four in different innings in the finale. While big innings helped Illinois win all three games, the Illini scored in at least two different innings in all three games. The Illini outscored the Spartans 26-4 and collected 30 hits in the series.
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.
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 as the first batter of the game 13 times with nine hits, three walks and an error. She has led the Illini at the plate all season long, currently hitting .352 with a .425 on base percentage. She ranks fourth in the Big Ten in stolen bases, going 20-for-21 on the year, and became just the third Illini in school history to steal 20 bases in a season. Additionally, her .952 efficiency is tied for second highest ever at Illinois.
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. Booker kept it going against Iowa, going 3-for-7 with a walk, two runs and two RBI. She extended her hitting streak to a team-best 10 games at MSU, before it ended in a game where she hardly saw a pitch to hit, walking three times.
The Gurnee, Ill., native has been spectacular in left field. She has not recorded an error in 94 chances this season, and has a total of seven outfield assists, throwing out multiple runners at home plate.
GAY AMONG NCAA ACTIVE CAREER LEADERS
Senior pitcher Pepper Gay has already reached three Illinois records this year and sits in the top 50 among active Division I players in seven different statistical categories. The hurler ranks 17th in pitching appearances (150), 19th in starts (112), 26th in wins (71), 27th in innings pitched (706.0), 35th in complete games (67), 41st in strikeouts (588) and 42nd in shutouts (17).
Jessica Davis JUMPS UP THE CHARTS
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 six major career categories. The slugger is sixth in hit by pitch (14), seventh in home runs (26), eighth in slugging percentage (.494), ninth in on base percentage (.378), and 10th in both triples (3) and assists (165). She also ranks in the top 15 in batting average, runs scored, RBI, walks and total bases.
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 18 double plays, ranking third in the Big Ten and 44th in the nation. Moreover, they have turned nine DP in Big Ten play, which ranks third.
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 1.42 stolen bases per game. Not only have they been stealing often, but the Illini have been efficient, ranking third in the Big Ten with just 10 runners caught.
Alex Booker ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 71st in the nation with 20-of-21 swipes, and Kylie Johnson is ninth in the conference, stealing 18 of 23. Additionally, Booker ranks fourth with eight stolen bases in conference play.
Booker's speed on the base paths ranks her among the best in Illinois history. She is one of just three Illini ever to steal 20 bases in a season and is tied for second with her .952 efficiency. Johnson is in ninth all-time with her 18 swipes. With her final season still to come, Booker sits in seventh all-time in career stolen bases (32) and in fifth in SB% (.821).
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. Despite only seeing action in seven Big Ten games, Detrick ranks fourth in the conference with all six runners caught coming in Big Ten play. In the circle, Shelese Arnold is tied for eighth in the Big Ten with eight caught runners, while Pepper Gay has been in the circle for seven.
ILLINOIS HAS TOP-20 STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Illinois has a tough task this season, with 11 scheduled games against opponents that are ranked in the top 25 in the NFCA poll this week and an additional eight games against teams that are receiving votes in either poll. According the NCAA SOS rankings, the Illini have played the 19th-most difficult schedule to date--even without getting to play the doubleheader vs. Missouri. That mark has fluctuated throughout the season, but was as high as #4 in the nation at the start of April. The Illini have played nine games against teams that were ranked at the time of the game, picking up their first ranked victory of the year on March 20 against then-No. 24 Nebraska,
The Illini opened the 2013 season against defending National Champion No. 1 Alabama. Illinois faced No. 6 Texas in a pair of games the following weekend, along with top-50 opponents Houston and DePaul, dropping two to the Longhorns but defeating the Blue Demons and taking one of two from the Cougars.
The Orange and Blue faced four top-30 teams in Palm Springs, taking on No. 22 Washington and No. 8 Cal, along with Oregon State and Georgia Tech who were ranked the week before or after the game. The Illini allowed just one earned run to GT and Cal, but went 0-4 on the weekend.
The Fighting Illini took No. 19 Kentucky to extra innings (now #8 in the RPI), then dropped a one-run game to USF, who dropped out of the rankings that week but has since returned to the top 25.
The Orange and Blue's neutral-site doubleheader with then-No. 7 Missouri was cancelled, but the Illini took on Wisconsin on March 22-23, who was ranked 26th at the time and dropped out of the polls this week. Illinois finally got a ranked win on March 30, going 1-2 against then-No. 24 Nebraska, who has since moved up to No. 14/16 in the polls and #11 in the RPI.
Should the Illini defeat Penn State in the first round game, they will take on Minnesota in the Big Ten quarterfinals, who received votes in both polls this week.
Illinois has four opponents in the RPI top 10, seven in the top 25, 16 in the top 50, and 22 in the top 100.
The Illini have five victories over teams that are ranked in the top 50 in the RPI this week, with Nebraska topping out at #11. Illinois swept then-#22 Iowa in a doubleheader, and defeated #34 Houston and #44 DePaul.
Of Illinois' 34 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 SLASHES PITCHING 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. The hurler needs just 12 more Ks to become the first Illini to reach the 600 plateau.
On April 23, 2013, Gay started her 106th career game, passing Fortune for the most starts by an Illini pitcher in school history. Two weeks later, on May 5, she tossed her 67th complete game, tying Fortune for the all-time Illinois record.