NIU romps over Ramblers

By Chris Sigley

After the NIU softball squad suffered its first loss of the season Sunday to Indiana, coach Dee Abrahamson had a talk with her team.

They talked about everything from life in general to the concentration needed to improve the team’s play.

The precious words of encouragement must have kicked in, as the Huskies retaliated Monday with a pair of slaughter-rule wins over Loyola at DeKalb’s McCormick Park. NIU’s Beth Schrader delivered eight strikeouts in three innings to pace the Huskies in the opener. Loyola managed a weak popout to spoil Schrader’s attempt to fan all nine batters she faced. She was relieved by Maria Leake to close out the 15-2 decision.

“It was a tough day for Beth, especially when you’re a senior and you want to build your stats,” Abrahamson said. “We wanted to get everybody in. But Beth was real encouraging. She went over and told Maria to go in and get ‘em, and she said, ‘I want you to fire hard and fire strong.'”

NIU’s duo of Kristin Vandenhouten and Shari Edwards must have overheard Schrader’s advice. In the nightcap, the freshman-senior combination (respectively) pooled efforts to throw a no-hitter, including 11 strikouts for the 11-1 Huskie win.

“Our pitching game came a long way today,” Abrahamson said. “(Loyola’s) hitters weren’t as good (as Indiana’s). We hit our targets a lot better today.”

Which was a lot more than the Ramblers could do. Poor fielding led to six Loyola errors in each game.

Heidi Hutchinson went 3-for-3 and knocked in five RBI for the Huskies in the opener.

NIU’s All-American Jill Justin stirred a six-run second inning with her RBI single. Sue Conway’s base hit and an error drove in Jen Blasky to give the Huskies a 3-0 edge.

Heidi Hutchinson’s single drove in Jeanne Richeal and Reimer. Justin tagged another single to bring the second of her three RBI across home before escaping to second on an error. Ree Zenner connected on a single to bring Justin in and close out the inning 7-0.

An NIU error brought in the only two RBI for Loyola to open the fourth inning. The Huskies drove in four runs in both the fourth and fifth to end the scoring.

Justin (3-for-4, 4 RBI) took control of the sticks in the second game. Partially because she was forced to switch sticks.

“‘Combat’ seems to be dead,” Abrahamson said of Justin’s relic bat from her high school days. The bat gained a small crack when the squad was in Florida, and just hasn’t been the same since, Abrahamson said.

Justin did find a vacant area in center field to drop a three-run triple in the third inning. She was followed by Lisa Gilfoy’s sacrifice pop fly which brought Justin across the plate one last time.

Conway’s bunt set up a bases-loaded situation in the fourth, and Sexton scored on a bad throw. Justin drove Richeal home on a single for the final score.

Although McCormick Park is in the confines of DeKalb, Abrahamson is anxious to return to Huskie Diamond. Weather conditions have made the true home field unavailable until about April 10.

“I can’t wait to be home,” Abrahamson said. “The wind is different here (at McCormick Park).”

Another difference that Abrahamson could live without is the park’s unenclosed benches, which allow fans to mingle with the players on the bench.

“I have a personal pet peeve in that I don’t like to have other people in my dugout,” she said.