Softball squad pins hopes on strength of returnees

By Kari Brackett

To the 1988 NIU softball team, the future looks so bright, they’ve got to wear shades.

At least, that’s the song the Huskies hope to be singing this season.

The Huskie squad began its 1988 campaign on the road in Florida and built a solid foundation to work with. NIU spent spring break in the Sunshine State, earning a 10-2 record and a second-place finish in the Florida State University Invitational. The Huskies just came short of first place honors in a 2-1 decision to the hosts in the championship game.

If all this looks impressive, there is more. NIU has good reason to be a strong ballclub this year. Of the Huskies’ 18 members on the team, 13 are returnees. The squad, which ended 24-25 in last season’s action, contains three Academic All-Americans, one All-American and national batting champion.

Seniors Sue Kause and Amy Veld were named First-Team Academic All-Americans last season, while junior Beth Schrader was selected to the third team. Kause, a first baseman, was second on the team with her .323 batting average, including 14 doubles and five home runs. Shortstop Veld followed with a .313 batting average.

Outfielder Jill Justin was named to First-Team All-America honors and was the leading hitter in Division I play with a .503 batting average. Justin already has recorded three home runs in the first week of the season.

“This season looks real positive for the team,” Justin said. “We all seem to have a ‘we can win’ attitude, which is the best attitude the team has had in the three years I have been here.”

Seniors Pat Faletti and Laura Peterson are two veterans who are also a part of the rock-solid foundation. Faletti can be found at either the catcher position or in an outfield spot, while Peterson’s expertise is at second base.

NIU has a young but experienced pitching staff in junior Shari Edwards, Schrader and sophmore Maria Leake. Schrader holds a 5-2 record, while Leak’s mark is 4-0. Edwards is currently slated with one save. NIU coach Dee Abrahamson said she is pleased with their performance so far.

“We have a really hard-working pitching staff,” Abrahamson said. “They needed to help each other out (during the tournament) and they did at key times.”

Kathy Bulow, Susie Conway and Lynn Lacy are three juniors who provide strong batting for the Huskies. Sophomore Heidi Hutchison and red-shirt freshman Lisa Gilfoy add to the depth of the offense also. Sophomore Sue Alexander will chip in her defense experience at the outfield.

“Everyone contributes to the team,” Hutchison said. “Everyone from a fielder to a pinch runner is a key. We can control our destiny.”

The four newest members include infielders Jennie Hughes and Kim Crotinger and utility players Jeanne Richeal and Julie Sexton. Abrahamson said her team proved last week it has great depth on both offense and defense.

“The team is versatile,” Abrahamson said. “When we first started, the big hitters didn’t do it for us, but the lower part of the batting order hit it for us. The key is that we are a balanced team. One game is won by defense and one game is won by offense.”

NIU has some tough opponents ahead, but it has already proven itself. Although the Huskies lost to Florida State in the championship game, NIU defeated the 22-4 (in 1987) squad in an earlier game. Abrahamson is looking forward to the season, but she is not setting her sights too far ahead.

This weekend’s tourney at Southern Illinois is the main concern. Western Illinois, ranked 13th in the nation, will be there, as well as Ball State, an old rival from the Mid-American Conference. Northwestern might be a grudge-match for NIU. The Huskies lost a doubleheader to the Wildcats in Evanston last year, but the ‘Cats will have to visit NIU’s campus this year.

“Everyone is playing consistently,” Gilfoy said. “There is a real positive attitude on the field.”