Redbird Softball Back in Action in Georgia
Feb. 26, 2009
After a 12-day layoff following a rare weekend off from competition, the Illinois State softball team returns to action this weekend when it takes part in the 21-team NFCA Leadoff Classic Friday-Sunday at the South Commons Complex & Stadium in Columbus, Ga. The Redbirds (4-6) are set to take on Long Island (10 a.m. CT) and South Carolina (12:30 p.m. CT) Friday, followed by Saturday matchups against Georgia Tech (10 a.m. CT) and No. 20/22 LSU (5:30 p.m. Saturday). Illinois State will conclude the tournament with a 10 a.m. CT game Sunday against Virginia Tech.
Live radio broadcasts of each game that Illinois State plays in at the NFCA Leadoff Classic will be available on WJBC.com.
The Redbirds will have their hands full this weekend, as four of their five tournament foes made trips to the NCAA Tournament last year. Georgia Tech, LSU, Virginia Tech and Long Island all played in an NCAA Regional last season. Adding to the degree of difficulty is the fact that LSU is nationally-ranked in both major NCAA Division I softball polls (NFCA/USA Softball) at No. 20/22, and both South Carolina and Georgia Tech are receiving votes in at least one of the polls.
No. 20/22 LSU (Saturday) will represent the second ranked opponent that Illinois State has faced this season. The Redbirds are 0-1 in 2009 against ranked foes, having previously lost to then-No. 3 Arizona State, 3-0.
The Redbirds are 13-8 all-time at the NFCA Leadoff Classic, dating back to their first appearance in the tournament in 1997, when they went 3-3. Last season, ISU was 4-1 at the Leadoff Classic, which included an impressive 2-0 shutout of then-No. 23 North Carolina.
Illinois State enters the NFCA Leadoff Classic with a combined 8-5 record all-time against its tournament opponents. The Redbirds own 1-0 series leads against Long Island and LSU. ISU and South Carolina are deadlocked in a 5-5 series tie, while Virginia Tech owns a 1-0 advantage in the all-time series against the Redbirds. This weekend will be the first-ever meeting between Illinois State and Georgia Tech.
Illinois State is being led at the plate early in the season by the surprisingly strong hitting of senior catcher Casey Gorrell, who is batting at a .370 clip with 10 hits in 27 at-bats, along with a .704 slugging percentage, two home runs and team-highs in doubles (3) and RBI (8). Gorrell entered the year with a career .365 slugging percentage.
Junior transfer Niki Stansell continues to be one of the most consistent run producers for the Redbirds. Stansell has already produced several game-tying or game-winning hits and leads the team in runs scored (8), hits (12), home runs (3) and slugging percentage (.727).
In the circle, Redbird pitchers - aside from freshman hurler Jordan Birch - have struggled in Illinois State's first 10 games. ISU's pitching staff owns a combined 4.16 team ERA, with Birch the only one under 3.00.
Birch has started her Redbird softball career on a tear, with a 2-3 record in the circle and a team-best 2.47 ERA. Highlighting those statistics was a one-hitter she threw against Kent State Feb. 15 during the Redbirds' 2-1 win over the Golden Flashes. It was the first one-hitter thrown by an Illinois State pitcher since former Redbird Stacy Birk one-hit Bradley April 9, 2007.
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