Redbirds Return to MVC Play with Trip to Evansville
April 15, 2011
NORMAL, Ill. - After falling to DePaul, 10-6, in its final non-conference game of the season, the Illinois State softball team will return to Missouri Valley Conference play with a trip to Evansville, Ind., for a three game set with the Purple Aces beginning Saturday at 12 p.m. The Redbirds (23-13, 9-2 MVC) are currently in second place in the Valley standings, one game back of Drake, while Evansville (9-30, 3-9 MVC) finds itself in ninth.
Prior to the loss at DePaul, ISU saw an eight-game winning streak come to an end with a 1-0 loss to Northern Iowa last Sunday at Marian Kneer Stadium. Illinois State took two of three from the Panthers in the series, but fell in the series finale after being limited to four hits, despite a strong pitching performance from junior Jordan Birch. Birch tossed a complete game, two-hitter, but a solo home run in the top of the second proved to be the difference.
The Redbirds found their offensive stride against the Blue Demons, lofting three balls over the fences at the new Caccitore Stadium in an 11-hit effort. However, ISU stranded 10 runners on the base paths, including eight in scoring position. Senior Kara Nelson, who leads the MVC with a .409 batting average, extending her hitting streak to 13 games with a solo homer in the third, and fellow senior Abby Olson blasted a two-run shot to right center for her eight homer of the season, tying her for the team lead with sophomore Elizabeth Kay. Olson and Kay have been the power bats in the lineup for the Redbirds this season, combining for 16 home runs and 55 RBI.
Birch has led ISU in the circle since the beginning of conference play, going 4-1 in her six conference starts with a 1.44 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 34.0 innings. The Monroe, Wash., native has limited opposing Valley hitters to a .211 average and has issued just five walks in league games. Fellow junior Megan Warner took the loss against Blue Demons, allowing five earned runs and four walks in just 1.2 innings. Despite Tuesday's outing, Warner has been solid in conference games, posting a 4-1 record with a 2.02 ERA. Warner has finished all five of her league starts, striking out 18 batters in 34.2 innings.
Evansville took two of three from Indiana State last weekend in Terre Haute, Ind., before dropping a mid-week doubleheader at St. Louis Wednesday evening. The Purple Aces were picked seventh in the Valley Preseason Coaches' Poll and are led by Preseason All-Valley selection Jen Stahlhut. Stahlhut leads UE with a .354 batting average, 11 doubles and a .549 slugging percentage and is tied for the team lead with 20 RBI. The senior lefty was named to the All-Valley Second Team and All-MVC Tournament Team last season. Amy Gaertner has hit a team-high four home runs for Evansville this season and has driven in 20 RBI.
The Purple Aces have struggled this season inside the circle, posting a team ERA of 6.03, the highest mark in the MVC. Kendall Kautz and Emily Morris have each won three games for Evansville to lead the staff. Kautz is 3-8 with a 5.01 ERA in 67.0 innings and Morris is 3-7 with a 6.40 ERA in her 58.0 innings inside the circle. Taylor Perry leads UE with a 4.78 ERA, but has earned a victory in just one of her seven decisions.
Illinois State leads the all-time series with the Purple Aces, 30-16, and has won 15 of the last 17 meetings. The Redbirds swept Evansville in a three-game set last season in Normal, Ill.
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