Softball Wraps Regular Season at Northwestern

Pepper Gay - the two-time reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week - is 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA and a save in the last seven appearances, including games against DePaul, No. 22 Michigan, Southern Illinois and Penn State.
Pepper Gay - the two-time reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week - is 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA and a save in the last seven appearances, including games against DePaul, No. 22 Michigan, Southern Illinois and Penn State.

May 10, 2012

University of Illinois Softball Notes

Illinois (27-23, 10-11 B1G) at Northwestern (24-27, 11-10)
Friday, May 11 // Drysdale Field // Evanston, Ill. // 2 & 4 p.m. CT
Saturday, May 12 // Drysdale Field // Evanston, Ill. // 1 p.m. CT

Printable Notes: Illinois Get Acrobat Reader | Northwestern Get Acrobat Reader
Northwestern All-Access (purchasable): Game One | Game Two | Game Three
Live Stats: Game One | Game Two | Game Three
Illinois-Northwestern Series: Northwestern leads, 13-11
Last Meeting: W, 5-3, in Urbana, Ill., on May 1, 2011
Overall Streak: W 6
Away Streak: W 2

Quick Hits
In 2012, Illinois is...
• 20-1 when leading after six innings.
• 22-5 when scoring at least three runs.
• 20-5 when allowing two or fewer runs.
• 19-6 in games decided by two or fewer runs.
• 18-3 when scoring the first run of the game.

Northwestern Insider
Northwestern will sport a 24-27 overall record and 11-10 Big Ten mark when the Illini arrive in Evanston, Ill., for the three-game series, while the Wildcats have found moderate success at home this year, owning a 6-4 mark at their own facility. Historically, series play at Drysdale Field has favored the Wildcats, with Northwestern winning 6-of-8. However, the Illini have won the previous six meetings, dating back to a doubleheader sweep of then-No. 11 Northwestern on April 25, 2009.

Marisa Bast leads the squad with a .418 batting average (61-for-146), with 13 home runs, six doubles and 60 RBIs while reaching base 52.7 percent of the time and tallying a team-high .767 slugging percentage. Emily Allard and Adrienne Monka have also found consistent success at the plate this season. Allard owns a .369 batting average with 38 runs scored, 33 stolen bases, 19 RBIs and four doubles. Monka is tied with Bast with a .527 on-base mark while Monka is hitting .331 (43-for-130) with 13 home runs, six doubles and 45 walks drawn - slugging .677 this season. As a team, Northwestern hits .284 (389-for-1,371) with 43 doubles and 49 home runs while successfully stealing in 81-of-88 chances. Northwestern out-slugs its opponents, .433-to-.391, through the opposition reaches base more often, .391-to-.385 through 51 games.

Meghan Lamberth has pitched the most innings of any Northwestern hurler, tossing 139 through 38 appearances and 24 starts, earning a 10-12 record and a 3.68 ERA with 157 hits and 70 walks allowed, giving up 73 earned runs, 33 doubles and 12 homers while striking out 70. Amy Letourneau follows with 106 1/3 innings, a 10-9 record and a 5.13 ERA, allowing 107 walks and 90 hits - including 15 homers - while striking out 103. Sammy Albanese (3.67 ERA; 4-5 record) and Jenny Tyler (2.55; 0-1) round out the core of pitchers, which owns a combined 4.11 ERA with 18 complete games and three shutouts, allowing 332 hits and 252 runs, issuing 236 walks against 226 batters struck out while the opposition hits .259 against the Wildcats.

Penn State Recap
The Orange and Blue earned their first Big Ten weekend sweep when hosting Penn State from May 5-6, taking a doubleheader on Saturday before securing a walk-off bottom-of-the-seventh victory on Sunday.

With 1,259 Illini fans in attendance at Eichelberger Field to celebrate the ninth edition of World's Largest Softball Tailgate, Illinois swept a Saturday afternoon doubleheader with Penn State, taking game one, 4-2, before securing the second contest, 6-3. The Orange and Blue used early run support to total both victories, scoring all 10 runs during the first two innings of play, with all the offense of the opener coming in the initial frame. The Orange and Blue took advantage of Penn State errors in the opening contest before Kelley Wedel knocked a grand slam over the center field wall in the second game, while Pepper Gay finished with just two runs allowed in 10 innings of work on the day, tallying a win and save in the process.

In game one, four first-inning runs created all the offense Illinois needed as the Illini used a pair of Penn State errors to score the first two before Brittany Sanchez added an RBI-single and Jami Schkade knocked a sacrifice fly ball to left field. Gay secured the win with a complete-game effort, holding PSU to a pair of runs.

Scoring early continued in the second contest, with Wedel connecting for a grand slam to stake Illinois to a 4-0 lead in the opening frame. The Orange and Blue padded the lead with two more runs in the following inning with a two-run double by Meredith Hackett scoring a pair of runs. Jackie Guy went four innings to earn her fifth win of the season, with Gay subbing into the contest in the fifth to close it with three hitless innings for her second save of the season.

Illinois softball concluded a three-game sweep of Penn State with a 3-2 walk-off victory at Eichelberger Field on Sunday morning. Schkade scored the winning run from second in the seventh, with Penn State's left fielder, Shannon Hutchinson, misplayed a ground ball through the left side of the infield by sophomore left fielder Alex Booker. Following the win, Wedel accepted a marriage proposal from the senior's boyfriend, Matt Cervantes, at third base with the crowd at Eichelberger Field looking on.

To earn the walk-off win, Schkade opened the seventh with a slow-rolling single to third on a drag-bunt attempt. Nittany Lion third baseman Ashley Todd was able to field the ball cleanly; however, the throw to first was late and wide of the bag, allowing Schkade to take second as the ball rolled to the right field fence. Two batters later, Booker drove a base hit through the left side of the infield. Schkade was held at third when Hutchinson raced to the play as the Albany, Texas, native reached the base. When Hutchinson arrived at the ball however, the junior bobbled it and was unable to field crisply with her glove hand, allowing Schkade to rush home as the winning run.

Gay Named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week
Pepper Gay totaled her second Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honor on May 7, becoming the first player in the conference to take home back-to-back honors on the season while joining Michigan's Haylie Wagner, Minnesota's Sara Moulton, Nebraska's Ashley Hagemann and Wisconsin's Cassandra Darrah as the only pitchers this year to earn the honor more than once. To tally the laurel, Gay totaled a 1.36 ERA and 3-0 record with one save in four appearances against Southern Illinois and Penn State. Gay finished the week with 24 innings of work, holding the opposition to a .184 batting average while striking out 21 hitters.

Wedel Returns To The Lineup
After missing 19 games due to a broken right index finger sustained in practice prior to the series at Iowa (March 31-April 1), senior Kelley Wedel returned to the lineup against Southern Illinois, belting her 10th double of the season in her second at bat back. Wedel was cleared to resume playing on Monday, April 31, and was only able to practice once prior to going 1-for-3 while scoring the eventual winning run against the Salukis on May 2.

Tablesetters Up And Down The Lineup
Illinois softball has been particularly effective in putting the first person to bat in an inning on base this season, with the entire lineup combining to reach in 132-of-335 opportunities (.394) through 50 games played. Six Illini find their way on base at least 40 percent of the time they step to the plate as the initial batter, with Meredith Hackett leading the way (.654; 17-for-26). Jenna Mychko follows at .542 (13-for-24) while Jess Perkins had reached as the leadoff exactly 50 percent of the time (19-for-38). Nikki Simpson and Kelley Wedel are both 11-for-24 (.458) while Alex Booker rounds out the group by reaching 18 times in 45 chances (.400). Below is a list of each Illini and how they have faired as the leadoff batter for an inning.

Perkins, Gay Recognized By Big Ten
Jess Perkins and Pepper Gay were honored by the Big Ten on Monday, April 30, with Perkins tallying Co-Player and Freshman of the Week and Gay earning Co-Pitcher laurels. With the duo sharing a piece of or outright owning each of the three weekly awards, Illinois became the first team this season to secure each honor during the same week.

Perkins went 5-for-11 (.455) at the plate with three runs scored and three RBIs, knocking a double and home run over the three contests. Perkins' home run came with two out in the eighth inning in Saturday's 5-1 Illinois victory, while the freshman scored both runs during the Illini's series-clinching 2-0 shutout on Sunday afternoon. Gay was dominant in the circle in 15 innings, holding the UM lineup that entered the three-game slate hitting .393 at home and .338 in Big Ten play to just one extra base hit and one run, striking out 10 Wolverines to earn a pair of victories, improving to 19-13 on the year in the process.

Illini Take Two At No. 22 Michigan
When the Illini secured their series victory at No. 22 Michigan with a ground out to second baseman Jami Schkade, the Orange and Blue became the first Big Ten team in exactly 11 years to go to Ann Arbor, Mich., and come away with two victories (Last: Iowa, on April 28-29, 2001).

Pepper Gay and Jess Perkins were singled out among the Illini that came through in the clutch, with Perkins taking home Big Ten Co-Player and Freshman of the Week while Gay was tabbed Co-Pitcher. Brittany Sanchez led all Illini with a .556 average (5-for-9) during the three-game series, doubling and scoring a run while accruing a .600 on-base percentage courtesy of one additional walk. Alex Booker and Stephanie Cuevas both hit .333, with Booker going 4-for-12 and Cuevas, 3-for-9. Among Cuevas' hits was the junior's first collegiate home run, which came in the seventh inning of game two. The pair of wins over a ranked opponent marked the 35th and 36th in program history.

Comeback Kids
In 2012, The Orange and Blue have come away victorious in 10 contests during which they trailed their opponent. These wins are the difference between Illinois being 27-23 currently or 17-33 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
5/2	S. Illinois  	1-0	 2 1/2	        3-2

Four Years At First Base
In her fourth seasons as a starter, senior Meredith Hackett has started 191 of a possible 198 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 2012.

At first base, Hackett has consistently been a sure-handed player, earning a .984 career fielding percentage behind 1,127 putouts and 64 assists in 1,210 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 (.626), second in home runs (41), third in on-base percentage (.440), doubles (43) and walks (98) and fourth in RBIs (153) and total bases (345).

Setting Them Down On Strikes
Pepper Gay continues to set batters down on strikes at an impressive rate, owning the third-most in the Big Ten on the current season with 197 in 219 innings pitched. Gay is averaging 6.30 strikeouts per seven-inning game this year, and with the second-most career Ks of any Illini in program history (443), Gay has struck out an average of 6.21 per seven innings, the second-highest career average for an Illini. Gay has fanned seven or more batters in 12 appearances, setting a season-high with 11 punchouts against Alabama-Birmingham on Feb. 11.

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 left field while also playing shortstop, first base and right field this year. 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 200 games played and 1534starts, Vaji is hitting .266 (118-for-444) with 13 doubles and four triples while scoring 81 runs, driving in 34 more, drawing 62 walks and stealing 20 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 App.
Shortstop	    71	    3	    74
Designated Player   33	    12	    45
Left Field	    22	    5	    27
Pinch Runner	    -	    24	    24
Second Base	    16	    2	    18
Pinch Hitter	    -	    15	    15
Right Field	    6	    1	    7
First Base	    5	    -	    5

Mychko Earns Big Ten 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
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.

Detrick Rejoins 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.