`Birds Tackle Back-to-Back Midweek Games

April 17, 2006

NORMAL, Ill. - Fresh off its second Missouri Valley Conference series sweep of the season, Illinois State will travel down I-74 to Champaign to face Illinois on Tuesday at 5 p.m., before hosting Indiana State in the final contest of the three-game Valley series on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Redbird Softball Complex. The Illinois game was originally scheduled for 4 p.m.

Despite returning seven starters from last year's team, the Fighting Illini have struggled through their regular season schedule, compiling a 19-24 record. However, one bright spot for Illinois is senior Jenna Hall, who is hitting .495 with a team-best 51 hits, 12 home runs and 46 bases on balls.

"She's just been on a tear. She's a great player," ISU head coach Melinda Fischer said. "(Hall's) one of the 25 players identified as a player of the year candidate. (Angelena) Mexicano's been doing pretty well too with her RBI. We saw their team in the fall, and we know they're a good-hitting ball club."

In order to contain Hall, Mexicano and Illinois' bats, Fischer believes the Redbirds will need more dominant performances out of pitchers Stacy Birk and Shannon Nicholson like they had last weekend.

"We got strong pitching performances from both Stacy and Shannon last weekend, and that was huge," Fischer said. "Hopefully they both got some confidence from those games. We got a lot of key pitches in key situations, especially from Shannon, against some of Evansville's more productive batters. They both really stepped it up and they need to concentrate on continuing those strong performances."

On Wednesday, the `Birds will face on of the toughest pitchers in the conference in Darcy Wood of Indiana State. The Sycamores (18-20, 6-11) were swept by No. 25 Southern Illinois in Carbondale last weekend. Currently No. 7 in the league standings, Indiana State is just a half-game behind Creighton. Only the top six finishers in the regular season race will compete in the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

"Wood pitched all three games against Southern (Illinois) last weekend and I expect that we'll face her on Wednesday. She's a great pitcher. We've just got to be able to get our offense going and get some production.

"We have to be ready to play every day. It does matter who or where we play. Our players are now starting to understand what we mean by that. It takes a lot of mental preparation at this time of the year. We're getting towards the end of the school year and our players need to be able to focus on what's going on on the field when they're at practice or in a game, and then focus on school the rest of the time. It's always a challenge to balance those things when we near the end of the school year."