March 8, 2013
NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State softball team (11-10) will play in its final non-conference tournament this weekend at Louisville's Red & Black Classic at Ulmer Stadium. The Redbirds will play a total of four games, two games apiece on Saturday, March 9 and Sunday, March 10.
ISU will take on No. 14 Michigan and Austin Peay on Saturday, before playing Miami (Ohio) and No. 13 Louisville on Sunday. The four games conclude a stretch of 25-straight road or neutral site contests to start the season for the Redbirds, who open at home March 16 against Bradley.
Scouting the Wolverines
The Wolverines enter the weekend at 15-5 overall, after going 5-2 last week in Orlando at the Disney Citrus Classic and Central Florida. Michigan's offense hits .320 and is paced by a pair of freshman. Sierra Lawrence leads the squad with a .385 batting average, while Sierra Romero's five home runs and 22 RBI top the squad. Sophomore Sara Driesenga has
appeared in the circle in all 20 contests, starting 18, going 13-4 with a 1.30 ERA. Fellow sophomore Haylie Wagner, the 2012 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, made her season-debut March 6 against Central Florida, throwing 3.0 innings. The Wolverines advanced to the Super Regional round of last year's NCAA Tournament, before being eliminated by eventual national champion Alabama.
The meeting between the Redbirds and Wolverines on March 9 will be the eighth all-time and second this season between the two squads. After not playing since 1998, 2013 marks the second-straight season in which the two teams will meet twice. They split a pair of games last year in Clearwater, Fla., at the NFCA Leadoff Classic and in Louisville, Ky., at the Red & Black Classic, before the Wolverines won this year's meeting in Clearwater, 11-9, in 10 innings. Michigan holds an all-time 4-3 series lead.
Scouting the Lady Govs
After going 19-31 overall and 10-20 in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2012, the Lady Govs brought on Stephanie Paris to take over the program. Paris, who was an assistant at Colorado State-Pueblo previously, has the squad off to a 5-3 start in 2013. Their tournament last weekend at Evansville was cancelled due to weather, so the Lady Govs last played on Feb. 27, sweeping Alabama A&M in a double header. The APSU offense has been led by sophomore Laurel Burroughs, who is hitting .577 with two home runs and 10 RBI through the season's first eight games. Dual-threat junior Lauren de Castro has also made a large impact, hitting .417 with one home run and eight RBI while going 3-1 with a 0.78 ERA in the circle.
Illinois State and Austin Peay last met in 2006, and have played each other four times all-time. The Redbirds have won all four contests, including a 10-3 victory on March 11, 2006, in Bowling Green, Ky. The other three meetings came in a three-game set at Austin Peay in 1994 that the Redbirds swept.
Scouting the RedHawks
It was an offseason of change for the RedHawks after going 41-20 and making the NCAA Regionals by winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament title in 2012. First, two-time MAC Pitcher of the Year and First Team All-Region pitcher Jessica Simpson departed after going 32-15 with a 1.29 ERA her senior season. Then, head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly departed for Ohio State, while assistant coach Christina Sutcliffe was named the head coach at Northern Illinois. Oklahoma State assistant Clarisa Crowell was hired to take over the program, and has the RedHawks at 2-8 in 2013. Junior catcher Kayla Ledbetter leads the team with a .333 average, three home runs and 12 RBI. The RedHawks are still searching for Simpson's replacement in the circle, as they enter the weekend with a 5.88 team ERA.
The Redbirds and RedHawks will meet for the sixth time on March 10, and first since Feb. 23, 2009, in Tempe, Ariz. The two squads played once every year from 1981-83, but have played just twice in the last 30 years. ISU has won all five previous encounters, including a 5-1 decision in the last meeting.
Scouting the Cardinals
The host Cardinals enter the weekend winners in 10 of their past 11 contests, including a 4-1 showing at the Disney Citrus Classic last weekend in Orlando. Picked to finish third in the BIG EAST after winning the league last season with a 20-2 mark (55-5 overall), the Cardinals have been led by junior Katie Keller. A two-time All-BIG EAST selection, Keller is hitting a team-best .450 with five home runs and 20 RBI. She is the reigning Louisville Slugger/NFCA and USA Softball National Player of the Week, after hitting .667 with three doubles, seven runs and two RBI last weekend. Junior pitcher Rachel LeCoq was named the BIG EAST Pitcher of the Week for her efforts in Orlando last weekend, and comes in at 7-1 with a 0.93 ERA in nine starts. The Cardinals were eliminated by Michigan in the NCAA Regionals last season.
March 10 will mark the third meeting in the past two seasons between the Redbirds and Cardinals, as the two squads played twice last year on March 12. The Cardinals, ranked 10th at the time, won both games at home, 8-2 and 8-0. All-time, the series is tied 3-3.
- The Redbirds' offense has been largely fueled by big innings this season. Out of the 44 innings ISU has scored in, 27 of them have featured more than one run.
- Timely hitting has been a main factor in putting up the crooked numbers. ISU is first in the Missouri Valley Conference in batting average with runners in scoring position (.323), with runners on base (.306) and two-out RBI (47), and second with the bases loaded (.487) and two outs (.276).
- All of senior Lauren Kellar's 11 RBI have come with two outs, ranking her second in the conference, while junior first baseman Laura Canopy leads the league with 13 two-out RBI.
- Conversely, the ISU is hitting .209 with the bases empty, which ranks last in the conference.
Walk This Way
- The Illinois State coaching staff preaches a patient approach at the plate, and it shows through the season's first month.
- ISU ranks second in the Missouri Valley Conference with 79 walks and 16 hit by pitches.
- Senior outfielder Jhavon Hamilton's 21 walks lead the Valley, with the next closest person having 11.
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.
- The Redbirds are 3-5 this season against teams ranked in the top 25, the most victories over ranked teams since picking up nine in 2007. ISU knocked off No. 22/24 Baylor, 8-0, on Feb. 8, No. 14/17 South Florida, 7-0, on Feb. 24, and No. 13/13 Louisiana-Lafayette, 4-3, on March 3. The victories mark the seventh season in the past nine that ISU has defeated at least one team ranked in the top 25.
- Six Redbird foes are in this week's top-25 polls: No. 3/3 Arizona State, No. 5/7 Texas A&M, No. 13/13 Louisville, No. 14/14 Michigan, No. 15/18 Louisiana-Lafayette and No. 17/20 Baylor.
- ISU has been in the "Receiving Votes" category in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 poll twice this season, in the preseason edition and last week's poll.
Who's on First? What's on Second?
- Through its first 21 games, ISU has used seven 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.
- 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 933-626-4 career-record.
- A 2010 National Fastpitch 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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