NIU’s ‘slow’ Vandenhouten speeds by NIU competition

By Jennifer Hutchins

NIU softball pitching ace Kristen Vandenhouten is used to getting the last laugh.

Vandenhouten, a junior, has heard a lot of teasing from her opponents’ dugouts. “They yell ‘Slow, slower, slowest!’ because my pitches don’t have a lot of strength,” Vandenhouten said.

In fact, Vandenhouten believes she is hampered by pitching what she considers “slower than most Division I pitchers.” But what Vandenhouten lacks in speed she makes up for in talent.

In three games last week, Vandenhouten struck out 24 over 24 innings, gave up only 12 hits, one intentional walk and one unearned run while going the distance in a 1-0, 10-inning win over Top-20 Illinois State University (April 17).

Not to outdo herself, Vandenhouten ended the weekend with a no-hitter in NIU’s first of two wins against Valparaiso.

Vandenhouten, named the North Star Conference Pitcher of the Week, then returned home to cap the no-hitter with another win Monday against Northwestern. Vandenhouten held the Wildcats to just one run and upped her record to 5-2. The Huskies went on to win the double-bill and upped their own record to 21-16.

Wins are nice but the season has been anything but an easy one. Vandenhouten started the season by bruising the ulner nerve in her right arm which causes a loss of feeling in her pitching hand and fingers. Up until recently it had prevented her from pitching at full potential.

Despite the comeback and her success, the Huskie righthander from St. Joseph Academy, Green-Bay, Wis., gives credit not to her ability but to the team.

“I think my greatest strength is the amount of confidence I have in my fielders,” Vandenhouten said. “I don’t feel a whole lot of pressure to strike people out because I know our defense will stop anything that comes to them.

“As for the injury, I would never have made it back without the team’s support. It was really hard on all of us at the beginning of the season but we stuck together,” Vandenhouten added.

With the end of the season now winding down, Vandenhouten’s biggest goal is winning the North Star Conference Tournament held May 3-5 at Green-Bay, Wis.

“I really want to win the North Star Tournament next weekend,” Vandenhouten said. “It is important to me personally because I’ll be playing in front of my home crowd. I want them all to see I went to a place with a solid program that I am able to contribute to.”