Season Recap: Redbirds Battle to 28 Wins, Garner Individual Accolades
June 13, 2013
NORMAL, Ill. - In some respects, the 2013 campaign for Illinois State softball mirrored previous ones, as the squad took on a challenging slate featuring some of the nation's best teams and played every game with the program's trademark toughness and tenacity.
In some ways, however, 2013 was unlike anything 28th-year head coach Melinda Fischer had ever seen. Weather wreaked havoc on the 55 scheduled games for ISU, as just 47 were played, including only 20 of 27 Missouri Valley Conference contests. A loss in the quarterfinals of the MVC Tournament, giving ISU a 28-20 (13-7 MVC) record, ensured there would not be a fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
That's not to say that the season was without its highlights, for both the team and individuals. The Redbirds won three games against top-25 teams, most since 2007, while finishing in the top-three of the MVC for the fourth-straight season. Individually, senior catcher Elizabeth Kay became the eighth player in program-history to be named MVC Player of the Year, while six Redbirds were deemed all-conference performers.
The season began with a trip to Waco, Texas, to take part in the Getterman Classic at Baylor. The Redbirds got off to a rough start, dropping their first three contests, before bouncing back with an 8-0 win over No. 22 Baylor and 5-4 triumph against Sam Houston State to move to 2-3. Freshman Brittny Drish led the Redbirds offensively, being named to the all-tournament team after going 7-for-10 with two RBI in her first five games. The following weekend featured five more contests at the Littlewood Classic, hosted by Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz. ISU began the weekend with a doubleheader sweep of Minnesota, an eventual NCAA Tournament team. Freshman Regan Romshek tossed her first-career complete game in the nightcap, striking out 12. The Redbirds fell to Michigan State and No. 3 Arizona State the following day, before bouncing back with a 16-8 trouncing of Illinois-Chicago to conclude the tournament at 5-5 overall. Kay hit two homers, while Lauren Kellar equaled program records with five hits and seven RBI.
The NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Fla., came next for ISU. The Redbirds went 3-3 in six contests, including wins over eventual NCAA Tournament teams Hofstra and No. 14 South Florida, and a 10-inning loss to eventual Women's College World Series participant Michigan. First baseman Laura Canopy was named MVP of the tournament, driving home 11 runs over the six games.
The Sunshine State welcomed the Redbirds again the following week for the Disney Citrus Classic in Orlando, Fla. After a 2-0 start, including a 17-0 win over LIU Brooklyn that stands as the program's third-highest offensive output ever, the Redbirds lost their next two contests, being no-hit by No. 5 Texas A&M and losing in eight innings to James Madison. ISU ended the tournament on a strong note, however, picking up their third top-25 win by knocking off No. 13 Louisiana-Lafayette, 4-3, behind a complete game from Taylor Baxter and go-ahead home run from Kay.
Louisville's Red & Black Classic represented ISU's final non-conference tournament before MVC action. The Redbirds split four games, with another tough loss to No. 14 Michigan and a defeat to No. 13 Louisville sandwiched around wins over Austin Peay and Miami (Ohio). With MVC play set to begin the following weekend, ISU stood at 13-12.
What came next, however, was an unprecedented string of postponements and cancellations. The Redbirds did not play a single game from March 11-28, equaling the longest stretch in program-history. A home series against Bradley was rescheduled, with one of the games eventually being canceled, while the series at Creighton set for the following week was postponed and eventually canceled as well. Following another cancellation of a home game against Illinois, the Redbirds finally took the field again to open MVC play with a three-game set against Southern Illinois.
The Salukis took two-of-three from the Redbirds, before ISU bounced back with six wins in its next seven games. A home series win over Missouri State was bookended by non-conference wins against Northern Illinois and at DePaul, before the Redbirds welcomed Bradley to Marian Kneer Stadium for a doubleheader Thursday, April 11. With the doubleheader sweep powered by a home run from Laura Canopy in each game, Fischer earned victories 900 and 901 at Illinois State, the first coach to achieve that feat at ISU.
After dropping two-of-three at Drake the following weekend, the Redbirds bounced back with wins in seven of their final nine games heading into the MVC Tournament. Highlights included the Redbirds' seventh double-digit offensive output of the season in a 15-2 win at Wichita State that began a season-best six-game winning streak. After sweeping Northern Iowa in a Saturday doubleheader, the Redbirds dropped the series finale, 9-3, on senior day at Marian Kneer Stadium.
Heading into the season's final weekend, ISU sat in third place in the MVC, well within striking distance of first. However, four-straight cancellations, one at home against Bradley and three at Evansville, kept the Redbirds as the No. 3 seed heading into the MVC Tournament in Omaha, Neb.
After snapping a 10-year drought with the 2012 tournament title, the Redbirds saw their postseason form turn poor again in their quarterfinal game against No. 7-seed Evansville. ISU committed four errors in the contest, leading to four unearned run, in a 5-3 loss to the Purple Aces. The Redbirds held out hope for an at-large bid, but was not selected to the Field of 64, despite an 8-9 mark against teams that did make the tournament.
Kay's senior season goes down as one of the best in program history. Her .428 batting average and .538 on-base percentage are both the second-best single-season marks all-time, while she exited as the program's all-time RBI leader, with 166. Fellow senior Jhavon Hamilton became just the fifth Redbird all-time to break the 200-hit plateau, finishing her career fourth all-time with 206.
Leading the Redbirds next season will be first baseman Laura Canopy, who was joined by Kay on the NFCA All-Mideast Region First Team after hitting .352 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI. Canopy became just the second player to record 40 or more runs (45), hits (51) and RBI in a single season. Canopy will be joined by fourth other returning offensive starters, including 2012 All-MVC Second Team choice Nichelle Harrison. Baxter, Romshek and Sophia Perez, who set a single-season record and ranked nationally with seven saves, will all return to the circle for ISU in 2014.
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