SIU tourney awaits

By Tom Clegg

So maybe southern Illinois isn’t southern Florida.

The NIU softball team won’t notice the difference if they can have as much success this weekend in Carbondale as they did in Tallahassee over Spring Break.

The Huskies, 10-2 after a second-place finish in the Florida State Tournament last week, will take part in a nine-team tourney hosted by SIU Friday and Saturday. NIU takes on Evansville at 9 a.m. and SIU at noon today. Saturday, coach Dee Abrahamson’s squad plays Ball State at 10:30 a.m. and Western Illinois at 1:30 p.m. The championship is scheduled for 3 p.m.

Abrahamson said she was pleased with the Huskies’ performance in Florida, but that her team cannot become complacent.

“I thought we could play with the teams we did,” she said. “The games we lost were one-run games. It’s a good start, but we have to remember it’s just a start and not take things for granted.”

NIU’s quick start can be largely attributed to the Huskie pitching staff. The team ERA stands at 1.06 with junior Beth Schrader leading the way at 0.50 runs per game. Sophomore Maria Leake (1.00 ERA) and junior Shari Edwards (2.57 ERA) have been pleasant surprises to Abrahamson.

Edwards missed fall practice due to an illness and Leake was sidelined during the offseason because of a knee injury. Yet they have opened the season a combined 5-0, with Edwards picking up a save.

Abrahamson said Schrader would pitch two of the four games leading to the championship contest, and Leake and Edwards would be used cautiously in the other games.

“Shari missed fall practice and I’d like to see her get some innings in,” Abrahamson said. “Maria had knee reconstruction so she missed fall practice too. We want to make sure they get their arms in shape.”

Offensively, the Huskies have been paced by juniors Jill Justin and Lynn Lacy. Justin, an All-American who led the NCAA with a .503 batting average last year, is hitting .343 with 3 home runs and 12 RBI. Lacy leads the Huskies with a .360 average.

Should the Huskies reach Saturday’s championship game, Abrahamson expects to meet Western Illinois. Ranked 13th nationally and 2nd in the Midwest in preseason polls, WIU has a 6-6 record and has slipped to honorable mention status nationally and 4th in the Midwest.

While the memory of the Florida State Tournament has been for the most part pleasant, the Huskies wish the head colds acquired in the Sunshine State would also be a memory. Abrahamson said the flight back from Florida probably helped spread the bug around.