NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State softball team (28-19, 13-7 Missouri Valley Conference) will welcome the Bradley Braves (22-27, 7-15 MVC) to Marian Kneer Stadium Thursday, May 2 at 5 p.m., for the final home game of the season. The contest is a makeup for the March 17 game that was postponed due to poor field conditions.
The Redbirds enter the contest in third place in the Missouri Valley Conference standings, just one game behind Drake in the win column for second and one behind Creighton in the loss column for first. Following the game against the Braves, ISU will conclude its season with a three-game series at Evansville this weekend.
Scouting the Braves
The Braves enter Thursday’s coming off an 8-0 loss to Northern Iowa, Tuesday. BU currently sits in ninth place in the MVC standings, needing to move up to eighth in order to earn a spot in the conference tournament.
A balanced offensive attack has paced the Braves throughout the season, as four players have tallied more than 40 hits. Bailiegh Bashamleads the way with a .381 batting average and .532 on-base percentage, with Alex Chandler’sfive home runs and Alyson Clemente’s21 RBI leading the squad in those respective categories.
Madeline Lynch-Crumrinehas been Bradley’s workhorse in the circle, appearing in 37 games with 29 starts. She has tallied a 14-14 record with a 3.06 ERA. Mackenzie Camphas appeared in 24 contests with 18 starts, going 8-12 with a 4.98 ERA.
Head coach Amy Hayesis in her fifth season at the helm. In her first season, back in 2009, Hayes led the Braves to the MVC Tournament title and the only NCAA Tournament appearance in the program’s history, which dates back to 1979.
The Redbirds own a 59-16 all-time record over the Braves, including wins in 11-straight, 18 of the past 19 and 24 of the past 26 meetings. The two squads played a doubleheader at Marian Kneer Stadium on April 11, with ISU winning both games, 5-0 and 8-3.
Senior catcher/infielder Elizabeth Kay leads the Missouri Valley Conference in batting average (.418), which is also 42nd-best nationally, and on-base percentage (.534), which ranks 19th nationally.
Kay also enters the week as the MVC’s all-time career leader with 166 RBI, one clear of Creighton senior Amy Baker.
The Redbird offense averages 5.62 runs per game, the best in the Missouri Valley Conference and 34th-best nationally.
The high-scoring Redbird offense is fueled by a MVC-best .398 on-base percentage. A .393 OBP mark posted by the 1996 Redbirds is the best in program-history.
Five Redbirds rank in the conference’s top-five for on-base percentage: Elizabeth Kay(first at .534), Laura Canopy(fourth at .492) and Jhavon Hamilton(fifth at .476). All three of those totals also rank in the top-120 nationally.
ISU leads the conference with 202 walks, while Jhavon Hamilton’s 41 and Elizabeth Kay’s 33 rank them first and third in the MVC. Hamilton ranks top-10 nationally, while Kay is top-40.
Illinois State is one of the most experienced teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, as 358 of 441 (81%) starts this season have been made by seniors or juniors. Junior Laura Canopy, redshirt junior Nichelle Harrison and seniors Jhavon Hamilton, Elizabeth Kay andLauren Kellar have started every game this season.
Sophomore Sophia Perez’s seven saves is a new single-season ISU record. Perez ranks second in both the MVC and nation in the category.
Jhavon Hamilton became the fifth player in program-history to reach toe 200-hit milestone with a game-winning two-run home run at Wichita State April 21. Elizabeth Kayenters the week five hits shy of achieving the mark, with 195 in her career.
Illinois State has played 10 games against top-25 teams this season, winning three of them.
The Beating Heart
As is the case with most good offenses, the heart of the Illinois State batting order leads the Redbirds’ potent attack.
Junior first baseman Laura Canopy maintains the third spot in the order. She is tied for the league-lead with 44 RBI, while also hitting .362 with a career-best 10 home runs.
Senior catcher/infielder Elizabeth Kay leads the Valley with a .418 batting average and has slugged 10 home runs while also 44 RBI from the cleanup spot.
In the Redbirds’ 20 conference games, Canopy and Kay have combined to hit .436 with 10 home runs, 37 RBI, 39 runs scored and 30 walks.
Hamilton, Kay and Kellar have seen regular playing time in all four seasons, with each starting every game thus far in 2013.
Kay is currently one RBI ahead of Creighton senior Amy Baker for the most in MVC history, with 166. She also ranks top-10 all-time in four other major offensive categories: home runs (third with 43), runs (fourth with 125), hits (sixth with 195) and slugging percentage (seventh at .557).
Kay has also started all 212 games in her career, 11 shy of Kara Nelson’s record 223, with four scheduled games remaining.
Hamilton’s top-15 rankings include runs scored (second with 150), hits (fourth with 205), RBI (fifth with 117), home runs (fifth with 28), slugging percentage (10th at .534), starts (eighth with 204), on-base percentage (13th at .405) and batting average (14th at .322), while Kellar’s 121 runs, 196 starts and 176 hits rank her fifth, 12th and 10th, respectively.
The trio, combined with fellow senior Shelby Music, is the only class in program history to make three NCAA Tournament appearances.
Nothing but the Best
Illinois State continued 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 3-7 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 a team ranked in the top 25.
Seven Redbird foes are in this week’s top-25 polls: No. 5/3 Arizona State, No. 9/9 Louisville, No. 10/10 Michigan, No. 15/22 Baylor, No. 21/14 Texas A&M, No. 25/23 South Florida and RV/No. 21 Louisiana-Lafayette.
ISU has been in the “Receiving Votes” category in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 poll twice this season.
The Legend Continues
Head coach Melinda Fischeris in her 28th season at the helm of the Redbirds, and 30th overall, with a 950-633-4 career-record. She recorded her 900th win at ISU against Bradley, April 11.
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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