NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State softball team (28-19, 13-7 Missouri Valley Conference) will conclude its regular season at Evansville (20-29, 11-12 MVC) with a three-game series, Saturday and Sunday. ISU and UE will play a doubleheader, Saturday, beginning at noon, before Sunday's single game that also starts at noon.
ISU enters the weekend third place in the Missouri Valley Conference, one game behind second-place Drake (14-7) in the win column, one game behind first-place Creighton (13-6) in the loss column and one game ahead of fourth-place Northern Iowa (13-8) in the loss column. The regular-season title and MVC Tournament seeding will be determined by winning percentage. Creighton hosts Wichita State for a three-game series, while UNI plays at Drake.
Scouting the Purple Aces
The Purple Aces are in the midst of their best season under fourth-year head coach Mark Redburn, entering the weekend at 20-29 overall, the program's highest win total since 2008. UE is also 11-12 in the Missouri Valley Conference after dropping two-of-three to 10th-place Indiana State last weekend.
Sophomore Kayla Fortnerleads Evansville offensively, as she ranks either first or second on the team in most major offensive categories. Fortner is hitting .291 with a team-best eight home runs and .450 on-base percentage, to go along with 35 RBI. Senior Tamara Robeyhas excelled from the leadoff spot, hitting a team-high .333 while stealing 29 bases in 33 attempts. As a team, however, the Purple Aces hit just .244, lowest in the MVC.
Five pitchers have started games for UE, but the staff is unquestionably led by senior Sarah Patterson. Patterson is 13-10 with a 2.67 ERA, and tossed a perfect game in a win over Wichita State March 29. Freshman Sarah Baldwinhas made the second-most starts, with 10, going 2-3 with a 2.94 ERA in MVC action.
Despite last season's 2-1 series loss at home to the Purple Aces, ISU still holds a 34-18 all-time edge in the series that dates back to 1984. The Redbirds swept Evansville in 2011, the last time the two squads met at Cooper Stadium.
Senior catcher/infielder Elizabeth Kay leads the Missouri Valley Conference in batting average (.418), which was also 42nd-best nationally entering the week, and on-base percentage (.534), which ranked 19th nationally entering the week.
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 entering the week.
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.
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 three 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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