Redbirds Head to Tempe for Littlewood Classic

Feb. 14, 2012

Littlewood classic | Feb. 15-17 | tempe, ariz.
Location: Tempe, Ariz. (Farrington Stadium)
Friday 2/15: vs. Minnesota (1:45 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.)
Saturday 2/16: vs. Michigan State (11:30 a.m.); at No. 3/3 Arizona State (6:15 p.m.)
Sunday 2/17: vs. Illinois-Chicago (9:30 a.m.)
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Tiwtter: @ISU_Softball

NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State softball team (2-3) continues its stretch of five-straight trips for non-conference action by traveling to Tempe, Ariz., to take part in Arizona State's Littlewood Classic, Friday, Feb. 15 through Sunday, Feb. 17.

The Redbirds will play the Minnesota Golden Gophers twice, at 1:45 p.m., and 8:30 p.m., on Friday. ISU will then take on Michigan State at 11:30 a.m., and No. 3/3 Arizona State at 6:15 p.m., Saturday, before concluding play against Illinois-Chicago on Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

Scouting the Golden Gophers

The Golden Gophers enter the weekend at 1-3 after playing in the Sportco Kick-Off Classic in Las Vegas. Coming off of their second-straight 31-win season, the Gophers return nine of 10 starters. Infielder Tyler Walker and pitcher Sara Moulton were All-Big Ten selections last year, and have continued to excel early in 2013. Walker is hitting .333 through four games, while Moulton is 1-2 with a 0.81 ERA in three starts. Sophomore Kaitlyn Richardson has led the Gophers thus far offensively, hitting .500 with two home runs and six RBI. As a team, Minnesota returned 52 home runs from last year's squad, the 11th-most in the nation.

Illinois State and Minnesota will meet for the 11th and 12th time on Feb. 15. The Golden Gophers hold a 6-4 mark against ISU, including wins in four out of the last five. The two teams last met on Feb. 18 of last season in Tempe, with Minnesota winning 9-0.

Scouting the Spartans

The Spartans opened 2013 by going 1-3 in DeLand, Fla., splitting with Stetson and losing twice to South Carolina. MSU is looking to improve upon an 11-42 (0-23 Big Ten) campaign in 2012, and features 13 returning letterwinners. Kylene Hopkins anchors the MSU offense after hitting .397 in 2012 on her way to First Team All-Big Ten honors. Hopkins has picked up in 2013 where she left off in 2012, hitting .571 with two runs and two RBI early in the campaign. MSU also returns all four starting infielders, in addition to two pitchers. Junior college transfer Kelly Smith has the team's only win this season, and has struck out 17 in 13.1 innings.

The meeting on Feb. 16 between Illinois State and Michigan State will be the ninth all-time, with the Spartans having won five of the previous match ups. ISU has won the last two, however, winning 7-4 on Feb. 17, 2001, and 8-0 on Feb. 15, 2002.

Scouting the Sun Devils

Arizona State is off to another fantastic start, going 7-0 the season's first weekend while outscoring opponents 45-2. The third-place finisher at the Women's College World Series one year ago, Arizona State features three 2013 USA Softball Top 50 Player of the Year Watch List members in pitcher Dallas Escobedo, catcher Amber Freeman and outfielder Alix Johnson. Escobedo went 4-0 with a 0.28 ERA in the season's first weekend, striking out 39 in 24.2 innings. Cheyenne Coyle hit .474 with five home runs and 10 RBI to open the 2013 campaign.

Arizona State's Farrington Stadium has become a familiar destination for the Redbirds, who have taken on the Sun Devils at their home field at least once every year since 1997. ASU holds a 28-2 all-time mark against the Redbirds, including last season's 14-3 win on Feb. 19. ISU last defeated the Sun Devil son Feb. 19, 2010, winning in nine innings.

Scouting the Flames

The Flames enter the weekend 0-5, losing three times to Nebraska and twice to New Mexico State in the Hotel Encanto Tournament in Las Cruces, N.M. Picked to finish second in the Horizon League preseason poll, the Flames are coming off a 26-26 (12-9) campaign. Melissa Preish led the Flames last season by hitting .391, but is off to a slow start in 2013, hitting .188 through three games. Junior Natalie Hernandez is hitting .467 thus far to pace UIC offensively. The combination of Devin Miller and Bridget Boyle has started all five games in the circle for UIC. The duo has combined for a 7.76 ERA in the early going, allowing opponents to bat .411.

Despite only roughly two hours separating the two schools, UIC and Illinois State have not met in the regular season since 1995. The Redbirds lost both games of a double header to the Flames, 4-2 and 4-3, back on March 14, 1995. Illinois State leads the all-time series, 6-5.

Making an Early Impact

  • The Redbirds had three players named to the Getterman Classic All-Tournament team last weekend: senior Jhavon Hamilton and freshmen Brittny Drish and Regan Romshek.
  • Drish leads the Missouri Valley Conference in batting average (.636), on base percentage (.692) and slugging percentage (.727) through the season's first weekend.
  • Romshek made an impact both at the plate and in the circle. Her .385 batting average is second on the team, while she has also made a team-leading three starts, going 1-2 with a 4.44 ERA.
  • The other three Redbird newcomers - Molly Cull, Kaitlyn Knary and Erin Rodriguez - all saw action in the season's opening weekend as well.

Nothing but the Best

  • Illinois State continues its tradition of playing a challenging non-conference schedule in 2013, with 15 games scheduled against teams that made the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
  • Seven Redbird foes are in this week's top-25 polls: No. 3/3 Arizona State, No. 10/11 Texas A&M, No. 12/12 South Florida, No. 13/14 Michigan, No. 15/15 Louisiana Lafayette, No. 16/17 Louisville and No. 21/25 Hofstra.
  • The Redbirds knocked off No. 22/24 Baylor, 8-0, on Friday, Feb. 8. The victory marks the seventh season in the past nine that ISU has defeated a team ranked in the top-25.

Filling a Void in the Circle

  • With the departures of senior pitchers Jordan Birch and Megan Warner, the Redbirds entered 2013 having lost 88 percent of their innings pitched from last season.
  • Birch, in particular, had a standout 2012 campaign, going 25-14 with a 1.59 ERA in 238.1 innings on her way to First Team All-MVC accolades.
  • Junior Taylor Baxter and freshman Regan Romshek appear to be tasked with filling the void as starters. Baxter went 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA last weekend, including a one-hit shutout over No. 22 Baylor (Feb. 8). Romshek posted a 1-2 mark in three starts, with a 4.44 ERA.
  • Sophia Perez made three relief appearances, striking out seven in just 4.2 innings. She figures to maintain a relief role as the season progresses.
  • Freshman Erin Rodriguez also contributed a perfect 0.2 innings of relief at No. 22 Baylor (Feb. 7).

Who's on First? What's on Second?

  • Through its first five games, ISU used four different starting infield combinations.
  • Senior Elizabeth Kay and redshirt junior Sara Bradley fuel the versatility. Kay started both at catcher and third base, while Bradley played both third base and second base.
  • Freshman pitcher Regan Romshek also hit in all three games she started, further providing head coach Melinda Fischer with more defensive options.
  • Conversely, the Redbirds have started the same outfield in every contest thus far: senior Jhavon Hamilton in left, senior Lauren Kellar in center and redshirt junior Nichelle Harrison in right.

Expectations to Soar High

  • The Redbirds opened 2013 as the co-favorites in the Missouri Valley Conference, tying Southern Illinois atop the preseason coaches' poll.
  • ISU defeated SIU, 13-3, in last year's MVC Tournament championship game to clinch a spot in its third-consecutive NCAA Tournament. The Redbirds reached the final of the Columbia, Mo., NCAA Regional, before being eliminated by No. 9 Missouri, 2-1.
  • Along with the top ranking, the Redbirds garnered three MVC Preseason All-Conference selections in senior outfielder Jhavon Hamilton (.304, 12 HR, 37 RBI, 11-11 SB in 2012), senior infielder/catcher Elizabeth Kay (.263, 7 HR, 31 RBI) and senior outfielder Lauren Kellar (.298, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 11-11 SB).

The Legend Continues

  • Head coach Melinda Fischer is in her 28th season at the helm of the Redbirds, and 30th overall, with a 924-619-4 career-record.
  • A 2010 National Fastpich Coaches Association (NFCA) Hall of Fame inductee, Fischer ranks in the top-20 all-time for NCAA Division I wins, and is 12th among active coaches.
  • The all-time winningest coach in Illinois State athletics and Missouri Valley Conference softball history has led Redbird teams to all nine of the program's NCAA Tournament appearances, including the last three years. She has also won 10 MVC/Gateway regular-season titles and five MVC/Gateway Tournament championships.

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