Illini of the Week April 8: Annie Fleming


By Ethan Swanson

The Illinois softball team opened the 2015 season at the Red and Black Showcase tournament in Athens, Georgia, and freshman Annie Fleming did not play.

“Before the season, our coaches asked us to write out what we thought our role would be for the year,” Fleming said. “When I went in to talk to them, I just said, ‘to be ready when called upon.’”

Since the beginning of conference play and especially in last weekend’s road series at Iowa, Fleming has exceeded the expectations she set for herself at the beginning of the year.

“Annie works extremely hard and is very coachable. That’s why she got the opportunity (to play) a couple weeks ago,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “Practice is what gets you in the lineup and, when you do get a chance, prepares you to succeed.”

Going into Sunday, the Illini were looking to win their second-straight conference series. However, chances at a victory looked slim after Illinois found itself in a 5-0 hole entering the third inning of its final game.

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    In the face of defeat, the Illini turned to Fleming, who delivered in impressive fashion.

    Fleming scored one of Illinois’ six runs in the top of the third. In the fifth inning, with Illinois clinging to a 7-6 lead, the freshman stepped up to the plate.

    She blasted a two-run home run off Iowa’s Shayla Starkenburg to put the Illini up 9-6. In her next at-bat, Fleming hit another two-run home run, making her only the 14th player in Illinois history to have a multi-home run game. Fleming finished the game 2-for-4, with four RBIs and two runs scored.

    “I have a newfound confidence,” Fleming said. “In this last week of practice, I’ve found my comfort zone in the box and started seeing the ball really well.”

    Fleming finished the three-game series with five hits, three home runs, seven RBIs and four runs scored.

    This type of production is no fluke for Fleming. Despite only having eight starts under her belt, Fleming has been a major factor to the team’s recent success and has been a catalyst for the Illini’s high-octane offense.

    In the 12 total games Fleming has appeared in, she has a .455 batting average and a 1.000 slugging percentage. Her four home runs and 10 RBIs are tied for fifth and sixth on the team, respectively.

    Fleming has also played solid defense third base for the Illini, recording a .960 fielding percentage with just one error at the hot corner.

    “She’s a versatile player. She’s played both corners and even pitched some in her career,” Sullivan said. “Her high school coach spoke very highly of her ability to hit for power and average. She’s always willing to work on her weaknesses, and for a young player, that’s key.”

    Fleming is used to waiting for her time to shine. She was unable to play her first two years of high school softball at Peoria Notre Dame due to injury. After coming back her junior year, Fleming burst on to the scene, hitting .628 with a .704 on-base percentage and a .885 slugging percentage, earning her first-team All-State honors in both 2013 and 2014. However, her small sample size in high school forced her to walk on to Terri Sullivan’s team.

    “She’s a tough-minded player,” Sullivan said. “She’s already had to go through knee surgeries and has just been really resilient.”

    With the freshman in the lineup, the future of Illinois softball looks bright. Ever since high school, she has waited for her opportunities and has made the most out of all of them. The most gratifying of those opportunities, according to Fleming, is simply the chance to play for and contribute to her home-state team.

    “It’s just been so exciting to be here,” Fleming said. “Illinois is such a great school, and being from this state and now playing in the Big Ten, it’s been awesome to be able to contribute the way I have.”

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