Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Sports News

ISU softball faces in-state rival Illinois

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[April 04, 2012]  NORMAL -- The Illinois State softball team will conclude a five-game road swing across the Land of Lincoln Wednesday evening in Urbana, when it faces in-state rival Illinois for a 6 p.m. nonconference tilt at Eichelberger Field.

The Redbirds (20-15) are looking to rebound after dropping the final two games of a three-game set against Southern Illinois in Missouri Valley Conference play last weekend in Carbondale, marking ISU's first conference series loss since 2010. ISU captured the opener 5-0 behind a five-hit shutout from senior pitcher Jordan Birch, before falling 6-1 in the second game and 2-1 in Sunday's rubber match. In the series, Illinois State stranded 25 base runners, including 12 in the second game.

Offensively, the Redbirds are led by sophomore Laura Canopy, who is hitting .356 and getting on base at a .473 clip. Junior Jhavon Hamilton and senior Liz Andrews are hitting .318 and .313, respectively, and Hamilton ranks second on the squad with four homers and 18 RBIs. Junior Elizabeth Kay has belted a team-high six homers and has driven in a team-best 20 runs.

In the circle, senior Jordan Birch leads ISU with a 12-9 record, 1.85 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 110 innings. Birch went 1-1 last weekend against the Salukis, allowing just one earned run in 13 innings. On the season, opponents are hitting just .202 off the Monroe, Wash., native. Fellow senior Megan Warner owns a 7-5 record and 3.92 ERA in 78 2-3 innings of work.

Illinois (16-14) enters Wednesday's game on a three-game losing skid after being swept by Iowa in a Big Ten Conference series last weekend in Iowa City, Iowa. The Fighting Illini return 10 letter winners from last year's team that finished 27-22 overall and third in the Big Ten. Illinois is led by 13th-year head coach Terri Sullivan.

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As a team, the Illini are hitting .244 with three players hitting over .300. Meredith Hackett has provided much of the offense for Illinois this season, as she leads the team with a .319 average, seven home runs, 21 RBIs and a .615 slugging percentage. Alex Booker boasts a .313 average, and Jess Booker is hitting .309 with five doubles and six RBIs.

The Illini pitching staff is led by Pepper Gay, who is 11-6 with a 1.84 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 114 innings. Gay has posted four shutouts in 17 starts and is holding opposing hitters to a .188 batting average. Jackie Guy has started the other 13 games for Illinois and is 5-8 with a 3.73 ERA.

Wednesday's game will mark the 17th meeting between the Redbirds and Fighting Illini, with Illinois holding a 9-7 advantage in the all-time series. ISU won both meetings last season, 10-7 in Columbia, Mo., and 10-6 in Urbana, to snap a five-game losing streak to the Illini.

[Text from file received from Dustin Hall, Illinois State University]

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