2013 Softball Year-in-Review

Pepper Gay shattered four career pitching records in 2013, including strikeouts and opp. batting average.
Pepper Gay shattered four career pitching records in 2013, including strikeouts and opp. batting average.

June 12, 2013

2013 Final Softball Notes

University of Illinois Final Softball Notes

  • Overall Record: 22-27 // Big Ten Record: 11-12 (6th Place)
  • Illinois won 11 of the final 12 games of the season and posted the third-longest winning streak in school history, winning 10 straight
  • Alex Booker was named Second Team All-Big Ten and she and Jami Schkade made the Big Ten All-Defensive Team
  • Pepper Gay broke four career pitching records: strikeouts (592), opposing batting average (.213), starts (113) and complete games (68)
  • Remeny Perez registered the highest slugging percentage (.514) and on base percentage (.431) of any Illini rookie in program history
  • Alex Booker became the third Illini ever to steal 20 bases in a season, and finished with the second-best SB efficiency in school history, going 20-for-21.
  • Kylie Johnson stole the second-most bases of any first-year player in school history, swiping 18.


In 2013, Illinois went...

  • 3-1 in extra-inning games
  • 15-0 when scoring six or more runs
  • 20-3 when scoring three or more runs
  • 13-2 when limiting opponents to two or fewer runs
  • 22-5 when out-hitting its opponent
  • 9-3 when hitting at least one home run
  • 3-0 in games decided by the final at-bat (walkoffs)

The 2013 softball season was full of ups and downs, as the Illini took on an incredibly difficult slate and demonstrated tremendous resilence down the stretch. Illinois opened the season in Iowa against defending National Champion Alabama, and proceeded to go 3-2 on the weekend with wins over 2013 Summit League Champion North Dakota State and a no-hitter against 2013 MVC Tournament victory host UNI. The Illini continued to face top competition throughout the non-conference tournaments, seeing teams such as No. 6 Texas, No. 22 Washington, No. 8 California and No. 19 Kentucky.

The Illini opened at Eichelberger Field in style, hosting the first-ever Fighting Illini Invitational on March 15-16. The Orange and Blue swept the tournament, capturing wins over 2013 Horizon League Co-Champion Loyola, Saint Louis and Western Michigan. Illinois snagged its first extra-inning victory in the home opener, toppling Loyola in the bottom of the ninth.

Illinois struggled at the start of conference play, digging itself into a huge hole at 1-11 through April 14. Their lone victory, however, was an exciting come-from-behind victory over then-No. 24 Nebraska, who would go on to play in the 2013 Women's College World Series and finished the year ranked No. 8 in both polls.

Directly after a demoralizing nine-game losing streak, Jessica Davis hit a walkoff home run in the bottom of the eighth on April 20 to lead the Illini past Indiana, 5-4, and begin a season-changing 10-game winning streak to pull the Illini all the way from last to sixth in the Big Ten standings. The winning streak included nine Big Ten victories and had games on both sides of the spectrum: three run-rule victories and two in extra innings. The Illini finished out the 2013 regular season on an 11-1 run, winning their final four Big Ten series including three sweeps to earn a favorable seed for the Big Ten Tournament.

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 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 registering a .427 on base percentage. The speed demon stole 20 bases on just 21 attempts, becoming 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 put together a team-best 51 hits, 33 runs, 13 RBI, five doubles, a triple and 18 walks, while recording three sacrifice bunts.

Booker was outstanding in left field, recording the most fielding chances in the Big Ten without making an error, tallying 87 putouts and seven outfield assists. In addition to the conference coaches, also named Booker to its All-Big Ten Second Team.

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 was the only Big Ten primary infielder 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 Terri 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 pitchers throw really differently, and I think she's a big reason why they're doing well."

On April 19, Illinois sat in dead last in the conference standings at 1-11. Using their never-say-die attitude, the Fighting Illini clawed 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 Big Ten Tournament returned in 2013 for the first time since 2008. Illinois earned 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 was the first time that all 12 members of the Big Ten were invited to participate.

The Illini are now 7-11 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 again in 2013.

2013 Big Ten regular-season 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) were the remaining three teams to have a tournament title in the vault. Fourth-seeded Wisconsin pulled out a pair of upsets to win the 2013 Big Ten Tournament, earning its first-ever tournament championship.

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 was the fifth time in school history that the Illini tallied a double-digit winning streak and is tied for the third-longest 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
12 April 13, 2010 May 5, 2010
11 April 9, 2003 April 20, 2003
10 April 20, 2013 May 3, 2013
10 Feb. 20, 2010 March 13, 2010
10 April 11, 2001 April 21, 2001

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 Winning Streaks
13 April 17, 2010 May 15, 2010
9 April 20, 2013 May 3, 2013
8 April 11, 2003 April 20, 2003
7 April 13, 2001 April 21, 2001

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.

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., resident 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 had a fantastic season for the Illini, owning a 2.75 ERA in 24 appearances. She allowed just 46 earned runs over 117.0 innings, while striking out 66. Arnold surrendered the fewest hits and the second-fewest earned runs of all qualifying Big Ten pitchers, and was one of just three conference pitchers to not allow a triple all season.

The Fighting Illini defense was solid all season, finishing third in the conference by making just 54 errors on the year and ranking fourth in Big Ten play with a .967 fielding percentage. Just 11 Big Ten student-athletes managed to hang on to a 1.000 fielding percentage after having at least 20 chances in the field -- four of those 11 were Illini, with Alex Booker leading the charge with 94 flawless plays out in left field. Linnea Detrick was perfect in 46 chances behind the plate, and>Kylie Johnson and Jade Smith rounded out a perfect outfield with 32 and 29 chances apiece. Additionally, Jami Schkade was the only Big Ten infielder to earn a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in conference play, leading to her Big Ten All-Defensive Team selection.

Alex Booker was a huge jump-start 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 led the Illini at the plate all season long, ending up hitting .352 with a .427 on base percentage. She ranked fifth 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 the 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 was spectacular in left field. She did not record an error in 94 chances on the season, and made a total of seven outfield assists, throwing out multiple runners at home plate.

Senior pitcher Pepper Gay broke four Illinois career records in 2013, and retired in the top 50 among active Division I players in seven different statistical categories. The hurler ranked 18th in pitching appearances (151), 23rd in starts (113), 29th in innings pitched (713.0), 30th in wins (71), 39th in complete games (68), 42nd in strikeouts (592) and 45th in shutouts (17).

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 put together a total of 19 double plays, ranking fourth in the Big Ten and 39th in the nation. Moreover, they turned nine DP in Big Ten play, which ranked third.

The Fighting Illini's run game was exceptional in 2013, ranking 49th in the nation as a team, with an average of 1.39 stolen bases per game. Not only did they steal often, but the Illini were efficient, ranking third in the Big Ten with just 10 runners caught.

Alex Booker ranked fifth in the Big Ten and 72nd in the nation with 20-of-21 swipes, and Kylie Johnson was ninth in the conference, stealing 18 of 23. Additionally, Booker ranked fourth with eight stolen bases in conference play.

Booker's speed on the basepaths ranked her among the best in Illinois history. She is one of just three Illini ever to steal 20 bases in a season and tied for second with her .952 efficiency. Johnson placed 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 kept its opponents honest, throwing out 17 runners, including a conference-best nine in Big Ten play. Jenna Mychko and Linnea Detrick each threw out six runners. Despite only seeing action in seven Big Ten games, Detrick ranked fourth in the conference with all six runners caught coming in Big Ten play. In the circle, Shelese Arnold and Pepper Gay both tied for ninth with eight runners caught. 

Illinois had a tough task in 2013, with 11 scheduled games against opponents that are ranked in the final NFCA and polls. According to the NCAA SOS rankings, the Illini played the 29th-most difficult schedule--even without getting to play the doubleheader vs. #10 Missouri. Prior to the NCAA Tournament, that mark was at #19 and it was as high as #4 in the nation at the start of April. The Illini 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 30 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 each 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 #12 in the RPI), then dropped a one-run game to USF, who was in and out of the rankings all season.

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 would go on to win the Big Ten Tournament. Illinois finally got a ranked win on March 30, going 1-2 against then-No. 24 Nebraska, who finished the season No. 8 in both polls and advanced to the WCWS.

In total, the Illini scheduled games against 13 teams who made the 2013 NCAA Tournament, six of whom advanced to the Super Regionals, and played three of the eight Women's College World Series teams, against whom they went 1-5 with a victory over Nebraska.

The Illini went 2-1 against regular-season conference champions (EIU, Loyola, NDSU), and no-hit the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champion UNI Panthers. 

Illinois was set to face seven teams who were ranked in the final poll, including four in the top 10. The Orange and Blue planned to play six of the top 12 teams in the final RPI, taking down #11 Nebraska, and captured five victories over teams that finished the year in the top 50. In addition to facing tough competition, the Illini took care of business against weaker teams, going 15-3 against teams that finished outside the top 100.

Fifth-year senior shortstop Jessica Davis vaulted up the charts in several career categories, graduating 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 never topped her second year, the Zephyrhills, Fla., native has posted four solid seasons to accumulate competitive career totals.

Davis finished 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 (.495), ninth in on base percentage (.378), and 10th in both triples (3) and assists (166). She also ranks in the top 15 in batting average, runs scored, RBI, walks and total bases.

On Feb. 10, 2013, Pepper Gay achieved one of the rarest feats in all of softball; she threw a no-hitter. Gay did not allow a hit, a walk, a hit batter, or a run in six innings in the circle for the Illini. There was one baserunner in the game, who reached due to an error by the shortstop.

It was the 10th time in Illinois history that an Illini pitching staff did not allow a hit. Of those 10, only five were solo no-hitters, while the other five featured a pair of pitchers combining for the no-hitter. Gay is the fourth pitcher to throw a complete game no-hitter, and just the second to do so in a game lasting longer than five innings. 

Of the 10 no-hitters, this is just the third time that the staff did not allow a walk or hit batsman. The Illini have one perfect game in school history, a five-inning victory thrown by Sherri Taylor on Apr. 29, 2003. Additionally, the first-ever no-hitter at Illinois, thrown by Kathryn Nevard on Feb. 17, 2001, featured just one baserunner due to an error in a full seven-inning 1-0 victory over Rhode Island.

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 retired just before reaching the 600 plateau, setting the school mark at 592.

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. She finished her career with new records of 113 starts and 68 complete games.

Arguably most impressive, Gay finished her final season at Illinois with the lowest opponent batting average in school history, with batters hitting just .213 against her. Despite struggling in the middle of the season, Gay finished strong to drop to her best-ever season average of .207 in order to pass>Amanda Fortune's career .215 mark and set a fourth Illinois career record. 

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.

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.

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 in the top of the eighth, 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 a hit 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.

Illinois went 3-0 on March 15-16 to claim the championship of the first-ever Fighting Illini Invitational. Illinois trailed Loyola, 0-2, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, when Remeny Perez hit a two-run double to score Kylie Johnson and Jess Perkins and send the game into extra innings. Jami Schkade led off the top of the ninth with a single, and Perkins came through in the clutch with the game-winning RBI on a single to left.

The Illini scored in four separate innings against Western Michigan. Perkins had the first RBI, putting the Illini ahead 1-0 in the third. After the Broncos tied it on an unearned run in the bottom half, Linnea Detrick, making her first start of the season behind the plate, used a sacrifice fly to center to regain the Illini lead. A two-out, bases-clearing double by Perkins solidified the Illini lead in the sixth, as Illinois won, 6-2.

Jessica Davis got the offense going in the title game against Saint Louis, leading off the second inning with her 23rd career home run. Illinois put up a total of three runs in the second inning, and tacked on to their lead in the fifth and sixth innings. SLU battled back, coming within two and sending the tying run to the plate in the top of the seventh, but Gay struck out the final batter to hand the Illini the 6-4 victory and the undefeated tournament run.

The Orange and Blue had a successful opening weekend, working out some early kinks to finish off with a 3-2 record, including two wins on Sunday. The Illini began the season against reigning NCAA Champion No. 1 Alabama. The Crimson Tide scored the first run, but the Illini tied the game in the second and took a 2-1 lead in the top of the third. However, a six-run third inning capped by a Tide grand slam handed Alabama the victory, 7-2. Allie Bauch went 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI, and Shelese Arnold allowed just one hit in three innings of relief. 

The Illini bounced back in the second game, exploding to an early 6-0 lead, while Pepper Gay held North Dakota State hitless through the first five innings. Kylie Johnson went 4-for-4 in the game and tied the school record with three stolen bases. The Illini carried a 2-1 lead over Drake into the seventh inning, but three errors in the final frame led to a pair of unearned runs for the Bulldogs, who took a 3-2 lead.

Fresh off a disappointing loss, the Illini made huge adjustments between Saturday and Sunday to finish the tournament with a pair of wins. Green Bay took an early 3-0 lead, but the Illini replied with six unanswered runs, including a five-run, five-hit fourth inning, to win, 6-3. 

The Illini turned up the heat in the final game of the tournament, as the Orange and Blue defeated host UNI, the 2012 MVC Champions, 8-0, behind a no-hitter by Pepper Gay. The Illini exploded for 13 hits and six stolen bases, with leadoff hitter Alex Booker going 4-for-4 with three runs and an RBI. Gay threw six shutout innings, without allowing a hit, walk or hit batter. The Panthers had just one base runner in the game, who reached due to an error.

The Illini leadoff batters got the job done, reaching base 16 times in 33 opportunities (.485), as opposed to just 11 by their opponents. Leadoff batter Alex Booker reached base safely in five of eight chances, including getting aboard in the first at-bat of the game four out of five times. Katie Repole led off four times, and got on board thrice, and Remeny Perez was safe at first two out of three times.