Three Top-10 Teams Highlight Schedule at ASU Littlewood Classic

Feb. 13, 2014

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Week 2: ASU Littlewood Classic | feb. 14-16
Location: Tempe, Ariz. (Farrington Stadium)
Friday 2/14: vs. No. 3 Washington (10 a.m. CST) | vs. No. 11/7 Oklahoma (4:45 p.m. CST)
Saturday 2/15: vs. San Jose State (10 a.m. CST) | at No. 5 Arizona State (2:30 p.m. CST)
Sunday 2/16: vs. SIUE (10 a.m. CST)
Game Notes: Game Note Central
Live Stats: SJSU, ASU and SIUE
Tiwtter: @ISU_Softball

NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State softball team continues its 2014 non-conference slate with five games at the ASU Littlewood Classic in Tempe, Ariz., Feb. 14-16. The Redbirds will take on three top-10 teams, all of which made the Women's College World Series in 2013, including defending national champion Oklahoma.

Play begins on Friday with a doubleheader against No. 3 Washington at 10 a.m., CST, followed by a contest against No. 11/7 Oklahoma, the defending national champions, at approximately 4:45 p.m., CST. Saturday's slate once again begins at 10 a.m., CST with a game against San Jose State, before the Redbirds take on No. 5 Arizona State at approximately 2:30 p.m., CST. ISU's slate concludes Sunday against SIUE at 10 a.m., CST. ISU's original schedule at the event was adjusted on Wednesday.

The Redbirds began the 2014 campaign last weekend by going 1-3 at the USF-Wilson DeMarini Tournament in Tampa, Fla. While ISU did lose three times, each one came at the hands of a 2013 NCAA Tournament team, including two Women's College World Series squads. Despite the defeats, head coach Melinda Fischer saw some positives that she is hoping her squad builds on this weekend.

"I felt that we saw some great things in a lot of areas," Fischer said. "I thought how we evaluated things in the preseason actually did happen. Our defense really stepped up from a field perspective and from a pitching perspective. Our weakness was the inexperience in the offensive lineup, but I thought we really battled and showed a lot of toughness."

Slap Hits

  • Through the season's first weekend, the Redbirds posted the lowest team ERA in the Missouri Valley Conference (3.37)
  • ISU committed just two errors in its first four games, fewest in the MVC.
  • Conversely, the Redbird offense struggled in week one. ISU averaged 2.25 runs per game and hit .175 as a team, which ranks it second-to-last and last among MVC teams that played last weekend.
  • Three of four Redbird newcomers - Jordan de los Reyes, Annie Heineman and McKensie Vissering - made their debuts last weekend.
  • The Redbirds have started the same infield - Laura Canopy (first), Kolby Hoffman (second), Brittny Drish (short) and Sara Bradley (third) in 26-straight games.
  • Sunday's contest against Oklahoma will be the eighth in program-history against the defending national champion. The Redbirds are 1-6 in those games, with the lone win coming in 1988 at No. 4 Texas A&M.
  • The Redbirds returned six starters from last year's squad that finished 28-20 overall and 13-7 (third place) in the Missouri Valley Conference.
  • ISU has been to the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four seasons, but did not receive an at-large bid in 2013 despite going 8-9 against teams that were included in the field of 64.
  • Five players started all 48 games for Illinois State last season, only two of whom (Laura Canopy and Nichelle Harrison) returned in 2014.

Scouting the Huskies (5-0)

The third-ranked Huskies finished third at the 2013 Women's College World Series and have picked up right where they left off in 2014, as they won their first five games at the UNLV/Sportco Kick-Off Classic by a combined score of 39-8. Junior Kylee Lahners led the UW offense in week one, slugging three homers and tallying 13 RBI to earn USA Softball Collegiate National Player of the Week accolades. UW returned three starting pitchers from last year, including senior Bryana Walker, who started three games for the Huskies last weekend and went 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA.

The all-time series between the Redbirds and Huskies is equal at 1-1. The two squads have not met since 1999, when the Redbirds upset No. 4 Washington, 3-2.

Scouting the Sooners (3-2)

Defending national champion Oklahoma got off to a surprisingly slow start last weekend at the Easton Tournament in Fullerton, Calif., losing its first two games of the season before bouncing back with three-straight victories. Junior Lauren Chamberlain led the way offensively last season for the Sooners, hitting .458 with 30 home runs and 84 RBI, but is hitting just .286 with one long ball and three RBI thus far in 2014. It has been junior Georgia Casey slugging the best for OU, as she is hitting .412 with three home runs and six RBI. OU lost Keilani Ricketts to graduation after she went 35-1, but sophomore Kelsey Stevens has stepped up to go 2-0 with a 1.62 ERA.

Illinois State and Oklahoma will meet for the 14th time, Sunday, with the Sooners holding a 12-1 all-time edge. The two teams most-recently met twice during the 2007 season in Miami, Fla. No. 16 OU won 3-1 on Feb. 9 and 4-2 on Feb. 11.

Scouting the Spartans (6-0)

SJSU started 2014 on an impressive note, winning all six games it played at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., last weekend. The Spartans lost a lot from last year's WAC champion and NCAA Tournament squad, returning just eight letterwinners, but have had some key contributions early on. Sophomore Jessie Hufstetler was named the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week after hitting .700 (14-for-20) with two home runs and six RBI last weekend. Allison Lang led the way from the circle, being named MWC Pitcher of the Week after tallying a 4-0 record with a 0.84 ERA in six appearances, all of which came in relief.

The Redbirds and Spartans have played three times previously, with SJSU holding a 2-1 all-time advantage. The two teams split a double header in San Jose on March 10, 2009, in their most-recent meetings.

Scouting the Sun Devils (6-0)

The host Sun Devils join Washington as teams to enter this weekend's tournament undefeated, as they went 6-0 at the Kajikawa Classic last weekend, which they also hosted. A year after crushing 95 home runs en route to a 50-12 campaign and Women's College World Series appearance, ASU has already hit seven long balls in 2014, including three from All-American Cheyenne Coyle and one from reigning Pac-12 Player of the year Amber Freeman. The combination of seniors Dallas Escobedo, a two-time All-American, and Mackenzie Popescue has combined to post a 0.22 ERA this season.

The Redbirds and Sun Devils have met in 17-consecutive seasons, all in Tempe. Overall, the two programs have met 31 times, with ASU holding a 29-2 edge. The Sun Devils won last season's meeting on Feb. 16, 7-1, thanks to three home runs.

Scouting the Cougars (0-4)

The Cougars are off to an 0-4 start after going winless in a tournament at LSU last weekend. With seven returning starters from a 2013 squad that went 35-13, however, improvement is expected. Junior Alex McDavid was named the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year last season after hitting .425 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI, but scuffled to a 1-for-11 start last weekend. The Cougars excelled in the circle last year, posting a team ERA of 1.97, and returned both sophomore Haley Chambers and senior Erin Greenwalt. Chambers has started three of SIUE's four games thus far, posting a 2.21 ERA.

Friday afternoon's contest between the Redbirds and Cougars will be the first all-time.

Stability In, Inexperience Out

  • The 2014 Redbirds are unique in that the squad's experience levels are segregated by position groupings.
  • All four infield starters - Laura Canopy, Kolby Hoffman, Brittny Drish and Sara Bradley - returned from the 2013 squad. That quartet combined to start 174 games last season, and has started 26-straight games together.
  • Conversely, ISU's outfield entered 2014 with little experience. The same three players - Jhavon Hamilton, Lauren Kellar and Nichelle Harrison - started every game in the outfield last season. Only Harrison returned this year, while the other outfielders on the roster entered with a combined 53 career appearances.
  • Through four games, the Redbirds have utilized three different starting outfield combinations, while a total of six players have seen action in the outfield.
  • Pitching is another area of experience, as the Redbirds returned 92.4-percent of their innings pitched last season.

The Dynamic Duo is No More

  • Last season, catcher Elizabeth Kay and first baseman Laura Canopy formed the most potent offensive duo in the Missouri Valley Conference.
  • Both players tied for the league-lead with 44 RBI and hit a team-best 10 home runs on their way to NFCA All-Mideast Region First Team honors.
  • Kay, who won the MVC Player of the Year Award, graduated, leaving Canopy to fulfill a much larger offensive role.
  • Through four games, Canopy leads the Redbirds with a .375 batting average and .615 on-base percentage.

Senior Laden

  • The 2014 Redbird roster features five seniors - Taylor Baxter, Sara Bradley, Laura Canopy, Nichelle Harrison and Kolby Hoffman, which marks the most seniors on a squad since the 2005 Redbirds had six.
  • The group has combined to appear in 635 games and make 563 starts over the last three seasons. Over that time, ISU has won 102 games, made two NCAA Tournament appearances and won both a MVC regular-season and tournament title.

New Power Source

  • Entering the 2014 season, lack of power projected to be a potential issue for ISU, as the Redbirds graduated players who hit 48.6-percent of its home runs last season.
  • The main source of returning power was senior Laura Canopy, who tied for the team-lead with 10 long balls last season and ranks 14th in program-history with 17 in her career. No other Redbird on the roster, however, entered the season with more than seven career home runs.
  • The Redbirds were still able to slug three long balls last weekend, though, without Canopy hitting one. Senior Kolby Hoffman hit the fifth of her career, freshman Jordan de los Reyes the first and sophomore Regan Romshek her second.

The Legend Continues

  • Head coach Melinda Fischer is in her 29th season at the helm of the ISU softball program, and 31st as a head coach.
  • Fischer has posted a 910-614-4 record during her tenure at Illinois State, making her the winningest coach in ISU Athletics and MVC softball history.
  • Her 951 career wins overall rank her 18th all-time nationally among DI coaches, and 11th among active coaches.
  • Fischer also played softball at ISU, and helped lead the Redbirds to a second-place finish at the AIAW Women's College World Series in 1969.

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