2011 Softball Season In Review Notes

Senior Danielle Zymkowitz earned conference, regional and national recognition for her final season, during which the West Hills, Calif., native earned a .425 batting average.
Senior Danielle Zymkowitz earned conference, regional and national recognition for her final season, during which the West Hills, Calif., native earned a .425 batting average.

June 20, 2011

2011 Illinois Softball Season-In-Review 

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Statistics | Photo Galleries | Feature Stories: Alex Booker, Jessica Davis/Danielle Vaji, Danielle Zymkowitz

Overall Record: 27-22
Big Ten Record: 12-8 (3rd)
NFCA All-America: Danielle Zymkowitz (Third Team)
NFCA All-Midwest Region: Danielle Zymkowitz (First Team), Jessica Davis (Second Team), Meredith Hackett (Second Team)
All-Big Ten: Jessica Davis (First Team), Danielle Zymkowitz (First Team), Hollie Pinchback (Second Team)
Lowe's Senior CLASS Award: Danielle Zymkowitz (Second Team)

Quick Hits
The Illini finished...
• 18-1 when ahead following the sixth inning.
• 23-2 when leading through four innings.
• 19-4 when allowing 0-2 runs in a contest.
• 23-7 when scoring the first run of the game.
• 14-5 when out-hitting an opponent.
• 6-1 when scoring 10 or more runs.
• 5-1 in night games - starting after 5:30 p.m.

Season Recap
Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan guided the Illini to yet another winning season while challenging the Orange and Blue with one of the most difficult schedules in Division-I softball during her 12th season at the helm of the Illinois program. The Illini wrapped up the season at 27-22 overall, while placing third among Big Ten teams with a 12-8 conference record - one of only four Big Ten programs to earn a winning mark this season.

In non-conference action, the Illini played 15 of their games against 12 different opponents who received votes for or were ranked among the top-25 teams in the nation by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association or USA Softball during at least one week of the 2011 season. The Orange and Blue secured key out-of-conference victories over Maryland, Fordham, Pittsburgh and Florida International during tournament play to bolster their standings. After falling behind to Maryland, 1-0, as the designated home team during a Citrus Classic match-up, Illinois rallied with three runs in the sixth inning to complete the comeback. The following day, Illinois tagged two-time All-American Jen Mineau, who went on the throw a perfect game during 2011, with three runs during her two innings of relief work. Fordham had rallied from down one run in the fifth inning and brought Mineau in to try to keep the score knotted at one and give the Rams' offense a chance to rally. In the sixth, Danielle Zymkowitz led off with a walk, stole second base and scored on an error by center fielder Lindsey Kay Bright. With Hollie Pinchback on second following the error and the Illini ahead, 2-1, Kelley Wedel singled in another run with a ground ball through the left side of the infield before Danielle Vaji tripled in Wedel to complete scoring in the 4-1 victory.

Illinois also found success against Illinois-based teams, finishing 5-3 against in-state opponents, including a doubleheader sweep over Big Ten rival Northwestern as well as World's Largest Softball Tailgate foe Western Illinois. The Illini also traveled to Southern Illinois for one contest on March 23, the final non-conference match before opening Big Ten competition, coming away victorious, 5-2.

The first win over Northwestern proved to be one of the most exhilarating games the Illini played during the 2011 slate as Illinois rallied from down a run in the final frame to come away with the victory. After falling behind, 2-0, in the second inning, the Illini rallied with three runs in the third inning to take their first lead of the day. Hollie Pinchback slugged the first of her two homers, a solo shot, and Kelley Wedel followed three batters later with a two-run bomb.

Northwestern immediately responded with two more runs in the top of the fourth to re-take the lead at 4-3, holding the advantage until the Orange and Blue batted in the bottom of the seventh. The Illini needed only two batters to come away with a walk-off win, as Zymkowitz singled up the middle before Pinchback sent a two-run homer over the center field fence.

The Orange and Blue surged to a tie for the top spot in the conference standings once Big Ten play began as Illinois jumped out to a 5-1 league mark with doubleheader sweeps of Michigan State and Ohio State as well as a series split with eventual NCAA Tournament-participant Penn State. Opening their home and Big Ten slate with a weekend series against the Spartans, the pitching duo of Pepper Gay and Jackie Guy combined to hold Michigan State to a .170 batting average while only allowing five runs, three earned, in 14 innings of work. Audrey Gallien paced the offense during the 6-3 and 3-2 victories with three doubles and two RBIs, while Jessica Davis went 2-for-4 with a double, two walks, two RBIs and a run scored.

After dropping the first contest, 4-2, to Penn State during the following weekend, Illinois responded with a resounding drubbing of the Nittany Lions, 12-2, in a mercy-rule shortened five-inning game to move to 3-1 in conference play. Zymkowitz, Pinchback, Meredith Hackett and Davis - the first four batters in the Illini lineup - finished 6-for-8 with eight RBIs, eight runs scored and four walks on the contest. Penn State's pitching duo of Lisa Akamine and Jackie Hill, both of whom opened the contest in the top three in the conference for batting average against, were no match for the Illini lineup as Akamine allowed three earned runs in 1 and 2/3 innings before Hill coughed up nine more in the final 2 and 1/3 innings of the contest.

The display of power from the offense continued during the next Big Ten series, at Ohio State. Davis paced the Illini bats as the Orange and Blue improved to 5-1 in conference play, tying with Michigan for the top spot in the conference. Davis finished the two-game slate with the Buckeyes going 4-for-5 with eight RBIs and six runs scored on four home runs and three walks. Davis reached base in 87.5 percent of the Zephyrhills, Fla., native's plate appearances, while her four homers secured her an unheard of 3.200 series slugging percentage.

Following a difficult stretch of contests against No.-2 Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, Illinois bounced back with seven victories in its final nine contests, including wins in five of six Big Ten games. During the concluding stretch of the season, Illinois dropped Northwestern, 5-4 and 5-3, traveled to Iowa to soundly defeat the Hawkeyes, 8-2 and 6-2, during a midweek doubleheader, swept Western Illinois, 3-2 and 2-0 and split at Minnesota - taking the first contest, 2-0, in nine innings before falling in the season finale, 3-2.

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, earning Lowe's Senior CLASS Second Team honors near the end of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. 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 continued to steal bases at a program-best rate, finding success on 21-of-26 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 continued her streak of consecutive starts throughout 2011, securing second base for the Illini in all 49 games this year to total 210 consecutive starts at second since her freshman season at Illinois in 2008. Zymkowitz finished among the NCAA leaders in triples and runs scored per game. In the most recent NCAA statistical update through games of June 14, the 2009 and 2011 All-American finished tied for eighth in triples with 6 and 10th in triples per game at 0.12. Zymkowitz also produced 1.06 runs per game, good for 17th in the nation, while her .425 batting average placed 29th among Division-I softball student-athletes.

In 2010, 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 closed her four years wearing the Orange and Blue with a .384 career batting average, the highest in Illinois softball history. Zymkowitz is also the career leader in stolen base percentage, finding success on 91 of 106 attempts (.858), hits (277) and runs scored (202). In total, Zymkowitz is featured on 16 Illinois career lists, including highest on-base and slugging percentages, most walks and most at bats.

In addition to her work on the field, Zymkowitz remained 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 continued 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 connected at an outstanding rate against Big Ten pitchers during the 2011 conference slate to earn a Big Ten-specific average of .587 (37-for-63), the highest among all conference hitters. Zymkowitz's 23 runs scored and 37 hits led the Big Ten, while the Chaminade graduate was also second in conference games for on-base percentage (.662), courtesy of 13 walks and one hit by pitch. Zymkowitz was particularly effective for a stretch of four games, one each against Ohio State and No. 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 20 conference games, Zymkowitz had at least one base knock in 17 contests, including multi-hit performances in 13.

Finding Ways On
Six Illini maintained great patience at the plate throughout 2011, with junior Meredith Hackett (25 walks), seniors Ashley Conrad (25), Danielle Zymkowitz (22), Audrey Gallien (21) and Hollie Pinchback (20) and redshirt-sophomore Jessica Davis (20) combining to earn 77.3 percent of the team's bases on balls (133-of-172). In addition to their hits, Hackett and Davis were struck by four pitches while Conrad was hit three times and Gallien, Pinchback and Zymkowitz once. Zymkowitz led the Orange and Blue with a .495 on-base percentage, Hackett placed second with a .442, Davis ranked third at .424 and Conrad earned fourth by reaching base 41.4 percent of the time the Orland Park, Ill., native stepped to the plate. Gallien ended her career with a fifth place finish for team-wide on-base percentage at .364 while Pinchback concluded her final year with a .357 seasonal mark.

Holding Down The Fort
Three Illini currently own consecutive games started streaks of 100 or more, one of only five teams in NCAA Division-I softball to feature three or more players with such experience. Bethune-Cookman, Auburn, Marshall and Kansas are the only other softball programs 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 concluded her career with a top-15 games started streak, ending the Minnesota series with 210 straight starts at second base. Zymkowitz's streak also accounts for the longest of any Big Ten Conference softball player. Classmate Hollie Pinchback (156) 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 a consecutive games started streaks or 130 or more, with 142 consecutive starts in 145 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 in 2007-08.

Breaking Onto The Scene
After suffering two gruesome injuries to begin her Illini career, Jessica Davis produced at an outstanding rate in the middle of the Illini lineup as the cleanup hitter during 2011. Davis, a redshirt-sophomore, led the Orange and Blue with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs, while tying for second in batting average (.336) and doubles (8). The Zephryhills, Fla., native began the season as the starting left fielder before shifting in to field the shortstop position - starting and playing in all 49 games on the season.

Like her teammate, Danielle Zymkowitz, Davis was particularly dangerous against in-conference opponents, connecting for 22 hits in 60 at bats (.367). Davis hit a Big Ten-best seven homers while driving in 23 runs and scoring 14 more. Davis' .783 slugging percentage ranked second in the Big Ten along with her RBIs and total bases (47) numbers for conference-only contest statistics, while reaching base 47.2 percentage of the time the Zephyrhills High School graduate stepped to the plate placed her second among Illini hitters. For her efforts this season, Davis was awarded First Team All-Big Ten as well as NFCA Midwest All-Region Second Team honors.

Another 20-Game Winner
After wrapping up the 2010 season with the best single-season winning percentage following a 16-1 win-loss record, sophomore Pepper Gay became the sixth Illinois pitcher to record a 20-win season as the Avondale Estates, Ga., native finished 20-14 in 2011, her first season as the ace of the Illini staff. Gay's season marks the fourth consecutive year an Illini pitcher earned at least 20 wins, with Claire DeVreese recording 20 victories in 2008 before Monica Perry recorded 24 in 2009 and 25 in 2010.

To earn this feat, Gay out-dueled some of the best pitchers in the nation and the Big Ten conference. Against non-conference opponents only, Florida International's Jenn Gniadek (14 wins, 2.65 ERA), Maryland's Kerry Hickey (18, 1.91), Fordham's Jenn Mineau (24, 1.22) and Chelsea Plimpton (17, 2.20) and Southern Illinois' Danielle Glosson (24, 2.21) were all outdueled by Gay. The St. Pius X Catholic graduate continued to outperform top-level talent in the Big Ten, including Penn State's Lisa Akamine (11, 1.89) and Jackie Hill (20, 1.93), Purdue's Suzie Rzegocki (26, 2.18) and Minnesota's Sara Moulton (28, 2.06).

With two seasons completed for the Orange and Blue, Gay owns a 36-15 overall record and a 16-7 Big Ten mark while holding opponents to a .215 batting average against, tied for the lowest in Illini Softball history. Gay also has the second-highest strikeouts per seven inning contest mark (6.14), third-lowest program career ERA (2.21) and fifth-most victories and strikeouts (261).

Limiting Their Lineups
The Orange and Blue pitching staff - Pepper Gay, Jackie Guy and Laura Tarnawa - held opponents to two or fewer runs in 23 contests during the 2011 season, coming away victorious in 19 of those games.

Illinois earned its first victory on the year by holding McNeese State to two runs during an 11-2 victory and followed with a 9-2 win against Texas-San Antonio to complete the Feb. 12 doubleheader sweep at the Getterman Classic. At the Blue and Gold Felsberg Memorial Tournament, a set of 8-0, five-inning victories over Providence and Pittsburgh improved the mark to 4-0 through the first two tournament of the season.

In the ESPN Citrus Classic, Illinois posted three consecutive victories while allowing two or fewer runs to open their weekend slate. The Orange and Blue shut out Temple, 12-0, in six innings before downing Maryland, 3-1, and Fordham, 4-1. However, in the final contest of the Citrus Classic, Illinois dropped its first game where the Illini held their opponent to two or fewer runs - falling to No. 13-ranked Oregon, 2-1.

At the Judi Garman Classic, the Illini again posted two victories when holding opponents to no more than two runs. The Orange and Blue came away victorious against host-Cal State Fullerton, 5-0, as well as San Jose State, 12-2, to improve their mark when limiting their opponent to two runs or less to 9-1. After opening the final day in Fullerton, Calif., with a nine-inning loss, 3-2, to No. 4-ranked Washington, Illinois fell to Long Beach State, 1-0, to mark only its second loss when limiting opponents to two or fewer runs.

Following a 5-2 victory at Southern Illinois, the Illini downed Michigan State, 3-2, on March 27, Penn State, 12-2 in five innings, on April 3, Ohio State, 8-0 in five innings, on April 9 and Wisconsin, 4-2 in eight innings, on April 23 to run its record to 14-2 before dropping a 2-1 decision at the Badgers on April 24.

The Orange and Blue also held Iowa to two runs in both ends of their midweek doubleheader at the Hawkeyes, coming away victorious, 8-2 and 6-2. After falling to DePaul, 2-0, the Illini responded with victories over Western Illinois, 3-2 and 2-0, before taking game one against Minnesota, 2-0, in nine innings to reach their 19-4 mark in contests when they held opponents to two or fewer runs.

Over the 23 contests, the Illinois pitching staff limited opponents to 19 earned runs for a combined ERA of only 0.89 in 150 innings of work. Pepper Gay led the group with a 13-3 record and a 0.66 ERA, making 14 starts in 17 appearances. Gay threw 11 complete games, including four shutouts, while holding opponents to a .145 batting average against. The Avondale Estates, Ga., native limited the opposition to 48 hits and nine earned runs in 95 and 1/3 innings of work while striking out 89 batters. Jackie Guy went 6-1 with a 1.34 ERA in 12 appearances and nine starts over the span of 23 games. Guy tossed 52 and 1/3 innings, holding opponents to 10 earned runs while setting down 47 batters on strikes. Laura Tarnawa threw the final 2 and 1/3 innings, giving up one unearned run on four hits while striking out two.

Holding The Lead
When the Illini led through four innings in any contest during the 2011 slate, the Orange and Blue finished 23-2 overall. In addition, following a heartbreaking, seventh-inning loss to Texas-San Antonio in the season-opener, the Illini rattled off 18 consecutive victories when leading entering the seventh inning to finish 18-1 when ahead after six frames. Illinois was equally impressive in the same categories during Big Ten play, finishing 9-1 against in-conference opponents when leading after four innings and 7-0 when ahead following the sixth frame. Illinois' lone loss when leading through four came at Purdue, while the Orange and Blue secured victories over Michigan State (twice), Penn State, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa (twice) by a combined score of 61-19, holding the opposition to three or fewer runs in each game.

Success In The Spotlight
The Illini received considerable television and web streaming coverage throughout the 2011 season, finishing 8-2 when playing on the Big Ten Network, Big Ten Student U or, with some of their most exciting victories receiving coverage.

Illinois first appeared on during the ESPN Citrus Classic, held at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla., from March 3-5. During the tournament, the Illini's contest with the Fordham Rams received national coverage, a game in which the Illini tagged one of the best pitching duos in the nation with four runs, including three unanswered. Illinois was particularly effective against 2010 and 2011 NFCA All-American Jen Mineau, who relived starter Chelsea Plimpton to start the sixth inning and promptly allowed three runs on two hits, a walk and a fielding error. Fordham had tied the score at one in the fifth and called upon Mineau, who has a Fordham-record seven no-hitters and four perfect games. The Orange and Blue connected immediately off Mineau, scoring three runs in the sixth as Illinois starter Pepper Gay held the Rams to a single run scored in seven innings of work to secure the 4-1 victory.

After falling to Penn State, 4-2, on April 2 during their season debut on Student U, the Illini responded the following day with a convincing win, 12-2, in five innings over the Nittany Lions to earn their second victory in televised or web-streamed games. Danielle Zymkowitz and Meredith Hackett each connected for two hits, while Hackett drove in four runs and Zymkowitz scored three.

The final televised/web-streamed Illini loss came against Illinois State on April 6, when the Orange and Blue dropped a 10-6 decision. Illinois responded with six consecutive victories to close out the live media coverage of the 2011 season. The Illini drubbed Ohio State, 13-4, in six innings during their first Big Ten Network contest of the season, with Jessica Davis connecting for two homers, three RBIs and four runs scored in the game. Illinois went on to down Northwestern on April 30, 5-4, on a two-run walk-off home run by Hollie Pinchback before Gay dominated Minnesota on May 13 with nine shutout innings in a 2-0 victory to cap the conference network's coverage. Illinois played three additional games on Student U, defeating Northwestern to earn its second consecutive series sweep of the Wildcats with a 5-3 victory on May 1 before downing Western Illinois, 3-2 and 2-0, during World's Largest Softball Tailgate festivities on May 7.

Zymkowitz led all Illini hitters when the Orange and Blue received live coverage of their contests, hitting .484 (15-for-31) with 12 runs scored and a .579 on-base percentage due to seven walks. Jessica Davis (.433, 13-for-30) and Hackett (.379, 11-for-29) also sustained success, combining for seven doubles and five homers to go with 18 RBIs and 15 runs scored while each earned identical .486 on-base percentages.

Gay saw the majority of innings in the circle, throwing 52 and 2/3 of a possible 69 innings - earning a 1.59 ERA in the process. Gay held opponents to a .159 batting average, limiting teams to 29 hits and 12 earned runs while appearing in all 10 contests, earning the decision in each.

As a team, the Illini batted .303 (77-for-254) with 12 doubles and 11 homers. Illinois also plated 54 runs while tallying 45 RBIs. Collectively, the Illini slugged .496 while reaching base 39.6 percent of the time they stepped to the plate. Gay and Jackie Guy combined to hold the opposition to a .182 batting average and only 19 earned runs in 69 innings (1.93 ERA). The opposing pitching staffs did perform nearly as well, with the Illini's potent lineup resulting a combined ERA of 5.03 as opponents combined to allow 77 hits and 46 earned runs. The Orange and Blue were specifically successful with slugging the ball, hitting 25 extra-base hits in only 64 innings.