May 10, 2012; Berkeley, CA, USA; General view of Levine-Fricke Field during the seventh inning between the California Golden Bears and the Arizona State Sun Devils. The Golden Bears defeated the Sun Devils 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Softball: Northwestern Series Preview

The Illinois Fighting Illini will play a three game series against the Northwestern Wildcats in Evanston, Illinois starting on April 5th.

The Illini come into this weekend’s series after losing a tough one to the Indiana State Sycamores on Wednesday. Illinois led early, but trailed 6-2 going into the bottom of the seventh. They ended up pulling within a single run after a Jessica Davis three-run homer, but still fell short in the 6-5 loss. They are 1-6 in their last seven games.

The Northwestern Wildcats come into this series with an overall record of 16-14 and a Big Ten Conference record of 2-3. They lost their last game to the Loyola Ramblers, 1-0, on Tuesday.

June 5, 2011; Fullerton, CA, USA; A detailed view of a composite barreled bat that meets the new NCAA guidelines as of January 2011 before the start of a game between the Cal State Fullerton Titans and the Illinois Fighting Illini in the Fullerton regional of the 2011 NCAA baseball tournament at Goodwin Field. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The best hitter for Northwestern coming into the series is junior Marisa Bast.

She doesn’t have the best average on the team, but she leads the Wildcats in at-bats (105), runs (19), hits (31), home runs (7), runs batted in (26), and slugging percentage (.524).

As an entire unit, the Wildcats can do good things behind the plate. They are batting .293 as a team (fourth best in the Big Ten). They also have two players with six doubles, three players with two triples, and six players with double-digit RBIs.

The biggest boost for Illinois on offense thus far has been their lead-off hitter, Alex Booker. In 23 starts, she has reached base 12 times to lead-off the game (nine hits, three walks, and seven runs in the first inning). She also has a .450 average and a .522 on base percentage in first innings this season.

The best part of the Fighting Illini’s game this season by far has been their running on the base paths. They are ranked 31st in the nation as a team with an average of 1.71 stolen bases per game.

The leading baserunners for Illinois have been Kylie Johnson and Booker. Both players are 14-for-15 in steals, ranking third in the Big Ten and in the top 55 nationally. Booker is 45th in the NCAA (averaging 0.54 swipes per game) and Johnson is 53rd overall and 13th among freshmen with a 0.52 mark.

Illinois have some of the best baserunners in the nation, but need to find ways to get them home. They have lost six of their last seven games and scored two or less runs in five of the six losses.

If Illinois can find a way to turn baserunners into runs, they should have no problem offensively.

However, the pitching will need to be better. In the game against Indiana State, Illinois’ pitchers gave up six runs after having a 2-0 after three innings.

Series Prediction: Illinois wins 2 out of 3.

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Tags: Alex Booker Illinois Fighting Illini Kylie Johnson Marisa Bast Northwestern Wildcats Softball

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