Friday, May 18, 2012
Sports News

Redbirds open NCAA regional Friday vs. No. 9 Missouri

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[May 18, 2012]  COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The Illinois State softball team will open NCAA regional play Friday at 6:30 p.m. against No. 9 overall seed and host Missouri at University Field in Columbia, Mo. The Redbirds are making their third straight and ninth overall trip to the NCAA tournament.

ISU (35-21) received the Missouri Valley Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA regional by winning the State Farm MVC Softball Championship last weekend in Carbondale, Ill. Illinois State finished 1-2 at the NCAA regional last season, as they dropped a pair of games to Missouri and picked up a victory over Indiana, marking its first NCAA tournament win since 2007. The Redbirds are 10-16 in their previous eight NCAA tournament appearances.

Senior Liz Andrews, an All-Valley First-Team selection, leads Illinois State's offense with a .340 batting average, 11 doubles and 26 walks. Sophomore Laura Canopy owns a .318 average with seven doubles, three home runs and 24 RBIs. Canopy tied a State Farm MVC Softball Championship record last weekend by driving in seven runs in Saturday's title game, going 3 for 4 with a pair of three-run homers and an RBI double. Junior Lauren Kellar is hitting .311 with a team-best three triples and 12 stolen bases, and has reached safely in 24 of her last 26 games. Fellow junior Jhavon Hamilton leads the squad with 12 home runs, 36 RBIs and a .575 slugging percentage.

In the circle, All-Valley First-Team selection and State Farm MVC Softball Championship MVP Jordan Birch leads the Redbirds with a 23-12 record, 1.55 ERA, 11 shutouts and 221 strikeouts in 212 innings. The senior righty has held opponents to a .214 batting average this season and issued just 40 walks in her 35 appearances. Fellow senior Megan Warner is 9-8 with a 4.02 ERA, while freshman Sophia Perez has been ISU's top option out of the bullpen and has posted a 2.94 ERA with 42 strikeouts around just three walks in 33 1-3 innings.

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Missouri (43-12) swept Big 12 Conference foe Oklahoma State to close its regular season and enters the weekend hitting .269 as a team. Ashley Fleming leads the Tiger offense with a .372 batting average, 11 doubles, 15 home runs, 48 RBIs and an impressive .731 slugging percentage. Fleming has also scored 43 runs and swiped nine stolen bases. Nicole Hudson is the only other Missouri player hitting over .300, as she sports a .306 average with nine doubles and seven homers.

Two-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and all-American Chelsea Thomas leads the Tiger pitching staff with a 23-7 record and 1.07 ERA. Thomas has recorded 262 strikeouts in 189 innings and is holding opponents to a .160 batting average. Kristin Nottelmann bolsters Missouri's staff with a 12-5 record and a 2.40 ERA in 18 starts. Nottelmann won all five decisions against Illinois State last season, including two in the NCAA tournament.

The Redbirds and Tigers have not met on the diamond this season, but Missouri defeated ISU in all five meetings last season. Missouri holds a 19-7 advantage in the all-time series with Illinois State, with the last Redbird victory coming in 1995 at the NCAA regional in Northridge, Calif.

[Text from news release received from Lauren McLaughlin, graduate assistant, athletics communications, Illinois State University]

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