2012 Illinois Softball Year-In-Review

Illinois' Terri Sullivan - the only head coach in program history - also tallied the 400th victory of her head coaching career against Boston University on March 16, a 5-4 come-from-behind win.
Illinois' Terri Sullivan - the only head coach in program history - also tallied the 400th victory of her head coaching career against Boston University on March 16, a 5-4 come-from-behind win.

June 12, 2012

2012 Final Notes (PDF)

University of Illinois Final Softball Notes

• Overall Record: 27-26 // Big Ten Record: 10-14 (8th place)
Pepper Gay was named to the All-Big Ten and NFCA All-Midwest Region Second Team listings
• The Illinois program and head coach Terri Sullivan won their 400th career games
Kelley Wedel broke the career school record for times hit by a pitch (37)
Meredith Hackett finished with the highest career slugging percentage in program history (.616)

Quick Hits
In 2012, Illinois went...
• 20-1 when leading after six innings.
• 22-6 when scoring at least three runs.
• 20-5 when allowing two or fewer runs.
• 19-7 in games decided by two or fewer runs.
• 18-6 when scoring the first run of the game.
• 18-8 when scoring in any of the first three innings.
• 10-2 when playing clean defense.
• 10-2 when Pepper Gay struck out at least seven foes.
• 15-6 when Kelley Wedel tallied at least one hit.
• 6-1 when tied through the sixth inning of a contest.
• 7-2 in its final nine home Big Ten Conference contests.

Coaching Staff
Head Coach: Terri Sullivan, 416-289-2 overall and 124-106 Big Ten (13 seasons)
Associate Head Coach: Donna DiBiase (13 seasons - 9 as associate; four as assistant)
Assistant Coach: Katie O'Connell (four seasons)
Volunteer Assistant Coach: Larry Crews (13 seasons)
Student Assistant Coach: Danielle Zymkowitz (one season)

Season Recap
The University of Illinois softball squad concluded the 2012 season with a .500 or better record for the fourth consecutive year and fifth in the previous six campaigns, earning 27 wins overall to improve the career record for the Illini program to 417-289-2 all-time. The slate of victories was highlighted by two over the No. 22 Michigan Wolverines on the road and two at home against Purdue, while the Orange and Blue also earned a pair of key victories when facing Massachusetts and another against NCAA Tournament Super Regional-bound Hofstra during non-conference competition.

Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan scheduled tough competition throughout the non-conference tournament slate yet again, testing the Illini against top opposition such as Massachusetts, Louisville, UAB, Tennessee, South Florida, Hofstra, Boston University, New Mexico State and Maryland. Illinois won multiple games in all four tournaments where the squad played at least four contests, including going 4-1 in the finale series, the USF Invitational. During that tournament, the Orange and Blue and Sullivan tallied their 400th win as a program and head coach, respectively, against Boston University on March 16, with a 5-4 comeback win.

Come-from-behind victories became a staple in the 2012 season for the Illini as the year unfolded, as the Orange and Blue refused to go down without battling to the last inning. The Illini recorded 10 comeback wins in total, with the largest deficit overcome being five runs against Florida Atlantic on March 4, with Illinois winning, 7-6, after trailing 6-1 through two innings.

Entering the Big Ten season with an 13-10 record, the Orange and Blue fought through the new conference format, which included three-game series instead of the previously-used two-contest format, while also facing the top teams from the region in DePaul, Illinois State, Western Illinois, Indiana State, Southern Illinois and Eastern Illinois. The Illini were one of three Big Ten teams to face the toughest composite schedule within conference play, including series at NCAA Super Regional-bound and No. 22-ranked Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa and NCAA Tournament participant Northwestern. The Orange and Blue came away with series victories against then-first place Minnesota (March 24-25) and Michigan (April 28-29) as well as then-second place Purdue (April 21-22).

Upon conclusion of the regular season, junior starting pitcher Pepper Gay was recognized by the conference and National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), earning All-Big Ten and NFCA All-Midwest Region Second Team. Gay was a leader in the circle and dominant force over the final three weeks of the season as Illinois contended for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. In 14 appearances and 11 starts over the final 15 contests, Gay tallied an 8-4 record and 1.83 ERA with nine complete games and a save, tossing 76 1/3 innings while allowing just 20 earned runs against 60 strikeouts.

Gay Receives Big Ten, NFCA Recognition
Following a strong finish to her season, pitcher Pepper Gay was honored by the Big Ten with second team All-Conference honors, becoming one of four pitchers recognized with the end-of-the year laurels in the process. Following the nod by the Big Ten, the NFCA also awarded Gay a spot on the regional listing, with the junior pitcher taking home second team All-Midwest Region accolades. The Avondale Estates, Ga., native totaled a 22-15 record with a 1.89 ERA on the year with 23 complete games and a single-season career-high 229 1/3 innings, striking out 202 batters while limiting opponents to a .213 batting average against.

Wedel Totals Big Ten Sportsmanship Honor
Senior third baseman and designated player Kelley Wedel secured Illinois' Big Ten Sportsmanship accolade upon the completion of the 2012 regular season after battling through what was originally deemed a career-ending hand injury sustained in the middle of her final season.

Wedel, who started the year as the Fighting Illini third baseman for the fourth straight season, suffered a broken right ring finger during practice prior to the series at Iowa from March 31-April 1. The severity of the injury led doctors to believe Wedel would need more weeks to recover than there was total time left in the season; however, the senior made her return against Southern Illinois. Despite only practicing once before being cleared to play, Wedel picked up where the Anaheim, Calif., native left off - doubling and scoring the winning run as the Orange and Blue bested the Salukis. After missing 19 games, Wedel played out the final seven games as the designated player, hitting her second career grand slam as part of a 6-3 win over Penn State during World's Largest Softball Tailgate IX on May 5.

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 ring 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. Wedel added another clutch hit against Penn State during World's Largest Tailgate IX, securing her second career grand slam to put Illinois ahead, 4-0, in the first inning of the second half of the May 5 doubleheader, en route to a 6-3 victory and daily sweep of the Nittany Lions.

Tablesetters Up And Down The Lineup
Illinois softball was particularly effective in putting the first person to bat in an inning on base this season, with the entire lineup combining to reach in 134-of-355 opportunities (.377). Five Illini found their way on base at least 40 percent of the time they stepped to the plate as the initial batter, as Meredith Hackett led the way (.630; 17-for-27). Jenna Mychko followed at .520 (13-for-25) while Jess Perkins reached as the leadoff 47.5 percent of the time (19-for-40) and Nikki Simpson and Kelley Wedel both went 11-for-25 (.440).

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 came away victorious in 10 contests during which they trailed their opponent. These wins were the difference between Illinois finishing 27-26 overall and 17-36 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

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 2012 season with 202 in 229 1/3 innings pitched. Gay averaged 6.17 strikeouts per seven-inning game this year, and with the second-most career Ks of any Illini in program history (463), Gay has struck out an average of 6.15 per seven innings, the second-highest career average for an Illini. Gay fanned seven or more batters in 12 appearances, setting a season-high with 11 punchouts against Alabama-Birmingham on Feb. 11.

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.

Playing Anywhere and Everywhere
Redshirt-senior Danielle Vaji finished out her Illini career as the definition of a utility player, starting 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, as Vaji also served as the starting designated player and 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 spanned 203 games played and 155 started, Vaji hit .266 (119-for-448) with 13 doubles and four triples - 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	    3	    19
Pinch Hitter	    -	    15	    15
Right Field	    8	    3	    11
First Base	    5	    -	    5

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.

Through games at the Eller Media Stadium Classic, Mychko opened the season strong, batting .323 (10-for-31) through 10 appearances, tallying nine RBIs in the process. This marks Mychko's first weekly conference award and the first for the Illini this season.

Four Years At First Base
In four seasons as the Illini first baseman, senior Meredith Hackett started 194 of a possible 201 games, accruing a streak of more than 140 consecutive starts. During her time with the Orange and Blue, 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 was consistently a sure-handed player, earning a .984 career fielding percentage behind 1,138 putouts and 65 assists in 1,222 total chances, the third-most in Illini history. For her career at the plate, the 2010 NFCA First Team All-American is a top-10 leader among all-time Illini in more than a dozen major offensive categories, including standing first in slugging percentage (.616), second in home runs (41) and walks (99), third in on-base percentage (.436) and doubles (43) and fourth in RBIs (153) and total bases (345).

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.

Detrick Rejoins Illini
After transferring to Eastern Illinois for her junior year, Linnea Detrick has returned to the U of I 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 sat out the 2012 season as per NCAA policies and will be eligible as a redshirt-senior in 2013.