NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State softball team (28-19, 13-7 Missouri Valley Conference) will look to defend its Missouri Valley Conference Softball Championship crown this weekend at the CU Sports Complex in Omaha, Neb. The Redbirds will begin play Thursday at 6:35 p.m., in a quarterfinal contest against No. 7-seed Evansville.
Should ISU advance past the Purple Aces, a semifinal meeting with No. 2-seed Drake would be held Friday at 2:35 p.m. The championship game is Saturday at 5:07 p.m.
The third-seeded Redbirds enter the tournament having not played since April 28, a 9-3 loss to Northern Iowa, as their final four games of the regular season were canceled due to weather. ISU also went through an 18-day layoff from March 10-29, with seven games being either postponed or canceled during that stretch. Overall, ISU had eight games canceled, seven of them Valley contests, leading to the fewest number of MVC games played since playing 18 in 2000.
MVC Softball Championship History
After not winning a tournament title since 2001, or a game in the event since 2006, the Redbirds tied an MVC-best with their sixth tournament title last season. ISU knocked off Drake in the semifinals, 3-0, before clinching the championship with a 13-3 victory over Southern Illinois.
The Redbirds hold a 54-44 record all-time in the tournament that dates back to 1983. ISU is 34-36 all-time in tournament play against the seven other teams in this year's field: No. 1-seed Creighton (4-5), No. 2-seed Drake (2-3), No. 4-seed Northern Iowa (7-4), No. 5-seed Southern Illinois (5-9), No. 6-seed Missouri State (8-6), No. 7-seed Evansville (4-2) and No. 8-seed Wichita State (4-7).
Senior catcher/infielder Elizabeth Kay leads the Missouri Valley Conference in batting average (.418), which was also 38th-best nationally entering the week, and on-base percentage (.534), which ranked 19th nationally entering the week.
Kay also enters the week in a race with Creighton senior Amy Baker to become the MVC's all-time RBI leader. Both have already broken former Redbird Heather Stella'sprevious record, while Kay's 166 are one shy of Baker's career total.
The Redbird offense averages 5.62 runs per game, the best in the Missouri Valley Conference and 37th-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-four for on-base percentage: Elizabeth Kay(first at .534), Laura Canopy(third at .492) and Jhavon Hamilton(fourth at .476). All three of those totals also rank in the top-110 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 five other major categories: games started (third with 212), home runs (third with 43), runs (fourth with 125), hits (sixth with 195) and slugging percentage (seventh at .557).
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.
Flashing the Leather
After struggling somewhat defensively during non-conference play, the Redbird defense has rounded into the Valley's best in league games.
ISU's .977 fielding percentage and 14 errors in its 20 MVC games are both conference-bests.
The Redbirds have committed one error or less over their past eight games, including five perfect defensive performances in the stretch.
ISU did not commit a single error from March 30-April 7, a stretch spanning five games. Overall, the Redbirds are 14-3 this season when going errorless in a contest.
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. 5/5 Arizona State, No. 8/6 Michigan, No. 12/11 Louisville, No. 16/22 Baylor, No. 21/14 Texas A&M, RV/No. 24 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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