NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State softball team (14-14, 1-1 MVC) welcomes Northern Illinois to Marian Kneer Stadium for a 4 p.m., first pitch Wednesday evening. The contest marks the annual Strike Out Cancer game, during which the Redbirds will wear pink and a pink balloon release will take place to recognize cancer survivors and honors those who have lost the battle with cancer of any type.
Scouting the Huskies
The Huskies are off to an 11-18 (1-1 Mid-American Conference) start under first-year head coach Christina Sutcliffe, including a 3-1 win over the Redbirds Feb. 8. Junior outfielder Nicole Gremillionwas a First Team All-MAC selection for the 19-34 Huskies in 2012, and continues to lead the NIU offense, hitting a team-best .330 with 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts. Jennifer Barnettand Amanda Sheppardhave combined to start all but one game as the squad's lone two seniors. Junior Shelby Millerprovides pop for the Huskies, tying for the team lead with three home runs and 17 RBI.
Sophomore transfer Emily Nortonand sophomore Jessica Sturmhave combined to start every game for NIU. Sturm has started nine times, compared to Norton's 15, but leads the team with seven wins and 93.1 innings pitched. Norton started against ISU earlier in the season, going the distance and allowing just one run on eight hits in the season-opening victory for the Huskies. Sophomore Allyson Hecht and freshman Susana Gurneyhave also appeared from the bullpen.
Wednesday's meeting will mark the first time since 2002 that the Redbirds and Huskies met more than once in a season. ISU leads the all-time series 46-29-1, including wins in eight of the last 10.
Kay Named MVC Player of the Week for Third Time
Catcher/infielder Elizabeth Kaydid not let ISU's 19-day layoff affect her hot bat, as she hit .625/.750/.1.125 with one home run, three RBI, four walks and four runs scored in the Redbirds' series against Southern Illinois en route to her third Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week award this season.
Kay now leads the league's highest scoring offense in batting average (.386), home runs (6), on-base percentage (.495) and slugging percentage (.636).
She also ranks in the top-five of numerous MVC categories, including average (fourth at .386), on-base percentage (third at .495), slugging percentage (fifth at .636), walks (third with 18), RBI (fourth with 27) and home runs (fourth with six).
Getting On and Moving Along
The Redbirds feature the MVC's top offense and the 41st-best nationally, averaging 5.64 runs per game.
Getting on base and timely hitting have keyed the offensive attack, as ISU ranks in the middle of the MVC pack when it comes to power categories.
ISU's .385 on-base percentage is the best in the league, while three Redbirds - Elizabeth Kay(third at .495), Jhavon Hamilton(eighth at .451) and Laura Canopy(10th at .443) - rank in the OBP top-10 individually.
Once the runners are on base, ISU has excelled in moving them around the bases and keeping innings alive. The Redbirds lead the league in batting average with runners in scoring position (.332), runners on base (.321), two outs (.294) and two-out RBI (72).
The Beating Heart
As is the case with most good offenses, the heart of the Illinois batting order leads the Redbirds' potent attack.
Junior first baseman Laura Canopymaintains the third spot in the order. She leads the Missouri Valley Conference with a career-high 30 RBI, while also hitting .337 with a career-high four home runs.
Senior catcher/infielder Elizabeth Kayleads the team with a .386 batting average and six home runs from the cleanup spot.
Settling in to the five-hole is senior Shelby Music, who is taking advantage of the first regular playing time of her career to the tune of a .289 average and a career-high 15 RBI.
In last weekend's three-game series against Southern Illinois, Canopy, Kay and Music combined to go 12-for-27 with both of ISU's home runs and 12 of 22 RBI.
Hamilton, Kay and Kellar have seen regular playing time in all four seasons, with each starting every game thus far in 2013.
Kay ranks top-15 all-time in six major offensive categories: home runs (third with 39), RBI (fourth with 149), slugging percentage (ninth at .536), runs (10th with 109), hits (11th with 170) and doubles (14th with 29).
Kay has also started all 193 games in her career, 30 shy of Kara Nelson'srecord 223, with 25 scheduled games remaining.
Hamilton's top-15 rankings include runs scored (third with 133), RBI (fifth with 105), hits (seventh with 181), slugging percentage (12th at .508) and starts (16th with 185), while Kellar's 107 runs and 177 starts rank her 11th and 18th, respectively.
The trio, combined with fellow senior Shelby Music, is the only class in program history to make three NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Legend Continues
Head coach Melinda Fischeris in her 28th season at the helm of the Redbirds, and 30th overall, with a 936-630-4 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.
GoRedbirds.com: Your online source for Illinois State Athletics, tickets, Weisbecker Scholarship Fund gifts, multimedia, Redbird merchandise, photos and more.