Redbirds Set For Six Games in Clearwater, Three Against Top-25 Teams

Feb. 21, 2012

NFCA Leadoff Classic | Feb. 22-24 | clearwater, fla.
Location: Clearwater, Fla. (Eddie C. Moore Complex)
Friday 2/22: vs. No. 15 Michigan (2:30 p.m.); vs. Hofstra (5 p.m.)
Saturday 2/23: vs. UMass (9:30 a.m.); vs. No. 12 Louisiana-Lafayette (12 p.m.)
Sunday 2/24: vs. UC Davis (8:30 a.m.); vs. No. 14 South Florida (10:30 a.m.)
AudioNow: 213/493-0196 (Listen to play-by-play via landline or cellular phone)
Live Stats: Tournament Central
Tiwtter: @ISU_Softball

NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State softball team (5-5) will take on its toughest weekend slate of the season, facing three top-25 teams and five 2012 NCAA Tournament participants, Friday, Feb. 22 through Sunday, Feb. 24 at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Fla.

The Redbirds will play No. 15 Michigan on Friday at 2:30 p.m., CST, followed by a game against Hofstra at 5 p.m., CST. On Saturday, ISU takes on UMass at 9:30 a.m., CST, and No. 12 Louisiana-Lafayette at 12 p.m., CST. The tournament concludes with two more games on Sunday, against UC Davis at 8:30 a.m., CST and No. 14 South Florida at 10:30 a.m., CST.

Scouting the Wolverines

The Wolverines enter the tournament 6-2, after going 3-1 at the FAU Kickoff Classic last weekend in Boca Raton, Fla. A NCAA Super Regional participant one year ago, Michigan enters the weekend hitting .343 as a team and sporting a 1.46 ERA. Dual-threat sophomore Sara Driesenga has led the squad up to this point, hitting .412 with two home runs and 11 RBI, while also going 5-1 with a 0.85 ERA in the circle. Michigan has been without 2012 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Haylie Wagner up to this point.

The first of two meetings in 2013 between Illinois State and Michigan will be on Feb. 22. After not playing each other since 1998, the two squads met twice last season, with No. 12 Michigan winning, 3-1, at the NFCA Leadoff Classic Feb. 24, before ISU upset the 14th-ranked Wolverines, 5-1, in Louisville, Ky., March 11. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for ISU against Michigan, who holds a 3-3 mark in the series.

Scouting the Pride

Another NCAA Super Regional team in 2012, Hofstra entered 2013 ranked in the top-25 before getting off to a 2-3 start last weekend in Tallahassee, Fla. Last season, the Pride went 22-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association, led by All-America pitcher Olivia Galati. Galati is off to a slow start in 2013, however, going 2-2 with a 5.18 ERA through the first five games. The senior was 34-7 with a 0.95 ERA in 2012, also hitting .345 with four homers and 37 RBI.

The meeting on Feb. 22 between Illinois State and Hofstra will be just the second all-time, with ISU winning the previous meeting, 2-0, on March 1, 2008 in Columbus, Ga. Amber Smith went 2-for-2 and threw a shutout to lead the Redbirds to victory.

Scouting the Minutewomen

The Minutewomen are off to an 0-3 start, losing three times last weekend at the FAU Kickoff Classic. Members of the Atlantic 10
Conference, UMass was picked to repeat as league champion after going 13-0 in conference play last season. The Redbirds ended the Minutewomen's
season in the NCAA Tournament, winning a 1-0 game in nine innings. UMass is looking to replace All-American pitcher Sara Plourde, who went 36-11 with a 1.74 ERA last season.

The Redbirds and Minutewomen will meet for the sixth time on Feb. 23. Their last meeting came in the 2012 NCAA Columbia, Mo., Regional, with the Redbirds pulling off a 1-0 victory in nine innings. ISU leads the all-time series, 4-1.

Scouting the Ragin' Cajuns

Coming off a 53-6 2012 season and NCAA Super Regional Appearance, the Ragin' Cajuns are off to an 8-1 start in 2013. 2013 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Watch List selection Nerissa Myers led the nation with 83 runs last season, and is hitting .393 with 14 runs through nine games. ULL enters the tournament hitting .363 as a team, with four players hitting .400 or better. Sophomore Jordan Wallace is 6-0 with a 0.60 ERA in six starts.

Illinois State and Louisiana-Lafayette have met seven times previously, but their meeting on Feb. 23 will be the first since 1999. The Ragin' Cajuns hold a 6-1 series lead over the Redbirds, including a five-game winning streak. ULL swept a four-game set against ISU March 28-29, 1998, before winning 1-0 on March 12, 1999.

Scouting the Aggies

The Aggies of UC Davis are off to a 5-5 start through the season's first two weekends, after going 24-28 (14-7 Big West) in 2012. With all of its starting outfield departing after last season, redshirt freshman Jasmine Lee has stepped up early, hitting a team-best .371 with two RBI. Big West Pitcher of the Year Justine Vela leads a balanced pitching staff, posting a 2-1 record and 3.08 ERA in five starts.

Illinois State and UC Davis have met just once previously, with the Redbirds knocking off the Aggies, 3-1, on March 8, 2009, in Stanford, Calif. Abby Olson went 3-for-4 with two RBI in the victory.

Scouting the Bulls

Speed and pitching led the Bulls to the 2012 Women's College World Series, and the same combo has helped USF get off to a 6-3 start in 2013. While it was Sara Nevins that led the Bulls to Oklahoma City from the circle last season, senior Lindsey Richardson has been the ace thus far this year, going 3-1 with a 0.25 ERA and being named the BIG EAST Pitcher of the Week. Junior Kourtney Salvarola is leading USF offensively, by hitting .478 with the team's only home run and four RBI.

South Florida has defeated Illinois State in seven of the eight all-time meetings between the two squads, including the last six. The game on Feb. 24 will mark the fifth-straight year that the Redbirds and Bulls have squared off. USF beat ISU twice last year, 6-3 on Feb. 25 and 1-0 on Feb. 26.

Kay Named MVC Player of the Week

  • Senior infielder/catcher Elizabeth Kay was named the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week (Feb. 18) for her performances in ISU's five games at the Littlewood Classic in Tempe, Ariz., Feb. 15-17.
  • The Bartlett, Ill., native went 7-for-13, with two home runs, six RBI, five runs and four walks during the weekend. Her best performance came in the finale against UIC Feb. 17, when she went 2-for-2 with two home runs, five RBI and a career-high three walks.
  • Kay enters the weekend on an eight-game hitting streak, the longest on the team this season.
  • Kay ranks in the program's all-time top-20 in hits (20th with 148), slugging percentage (11th with .530), home runs (3rd with 36), RBI (4th with 132) and runs (14th with 97). She has started all 175 games of her career.

Kellar Busts Out

  • Senior outfielder Lauren Kellar, a 2013 Preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference and 2012 All-MVC Second Team selection, was off to a slow start in 2013, recording just five hits in 30 at bats through ISU's first nine games.
  • However, a 5-for-5, seven RBI performance against Illinois-Chicago (Feb. 17) raised her batting average over 100 points and tied two single-game ISU records.
  • Kellar became the third player in program history to record five hits in a game, and first since Cutie Taylor on April 3, 2002. The seven RBI performance was also just the third in program history, with junior Laura Canopy achieving the feat in last year's MVC Tournament championshp win over Southern Illinois on May 12.

Action-Packed Sixth

  • The sixth inning has been feast or famine for the Redbirds this season. ISU has scored 17 of its 47 runs in the sixth, the biggest single-inning number, while allowing eight of its 40 runs in the sixth, the second-biggest single-inning number.
  • Four runs against Sam Houston State (Feb. 9), three runs against Minnesota (Feb. 15) and seven runs against UIC (Feb. 17) have accounted for most of that total and led directly to three wins.
  • Michigan State scored three runs in the sixth to bet ISU, 3-1, Feb. 16.

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

  • Through its first ten games, ISU has used five different starting infield combinations.
  • Senior Elizabeth Kay and redshirt junior Sara Bradley fuel the versatility. Kay has started both at catcher and third base, while Bradley plays both third base and second base.
  • Freshman pitcher Regan Romshek has hit four of five games she has 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.

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. 9/10 Texas A&M, No. 12/12 Louisiana-Lafayette, No. 14/17 South Florida, No. 15/15 Michigan, No. 18/18 Louisville and No. 25/25 Baylor.
  • 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.

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 927-621-4 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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