Justin’s heroics overshadowed by loss

By Jeff Kirik

A dream for the NIU softball team suddenly turned into a nightmare Tuesday during the Huskies’ doubleheader against Northwestern.

The 14th ranked Wildcats, now 31-8, swept a twin bill from the 20-18 Huskies by scores of 3-1 and 4-3 in Evanston. However, much more drama was involved in the games than the scores indicate.

NIU had prepared to see NU’s All-American pitcher Lisa Ishikawa, but the hurler started neither of the games. Yet in the second game when the Huskies tied the score 1-1 in the seventh inning, Ishikawa was brought on to extinguish the fire.

Ishikawa looked awesome as she struck out NIU’s Lynn Lacy and proceeded to set down the side in order in the eighth inning. When Pat Faletti led off the ninth inning by reaching on an error, it was time for a dream matchup to take place.

Jill Justin, who entered the day hitting .518, and Ishikawa were about to face each other for the first time in their careers. Before stepping up to the plate, Justin was told by third-base coach Donna Martin to take one hard swing and then just try to make contact against the All-American hurler.

“(I was thinking about) jumping on the first pitch,” Justin said. “She was getting her first pitches across to most of the hitters.”

“I said (to Justin), ‘You’ve got one cut, go for it,'” Martin said.

Ishikawa smoked a fastball across the plate on the first pitch and Justin went for it. She launched the blazing pitch high and deep to left-center field. Clearing the fence by a healthy margin, the round-tripper gave NIU a 3-1 lead.

“It was great,” Justin said of the feeling she had when she hit the home run. “Ever since I first heard about her it has been my dream to get to hit against her.”

“She is a good hitter,” NU coach Sharon Drysdale said. “We knew that and we were trying to keep her down. She came up with a couple of hits against us, and that one was a big one.”

The excitement over the dream homer was short-lived, though, because the Wildcats came back in the bottom of the inning to score three runs and pull out a 4-3 win.

The disappointing loss followed an opening game in which NU pulled out a 3-1 win.

Beth Schrader and Shari Edwards split the game on the mound for NIU, but the three runs they gave up proved to be too much against the pitching-strong Wildcats. Chinazo Opia and Nanci Clement combined to hold NIU to one run on three hits.

“I thought Nanci pitched extremely well, the best she’s pitched in a long time,” Drysdale said.

Clement just kept getting stronger as she started the second game and mystified the NIU batters by holding them to one hit through six innings. However, Justin singled to lead off the seventh inning and Sue Kause followed with a double to drive in Justin. Ishikawa then entered the game and stopped the rally.

After Justin’s homer, it became obvious that a Huskie upset win was not meant to be. The Wildcats responded by popping four straight singles which Martin called “inexpensive hits.”

After the first hitter reached on a check-swing single, the next batter bounced a ball over the head of Karen Kingos, NIU’s third baseman. Trying to stop the ball, shortstop Amy Veld deflected the ball past outfielder Lynn Lacy and the runners wound up at second and third.

After a solid single made the score 3-2, Justin tried to make a diving catch on the next ball hit, but the ball bounced by her and two runs scored to end the game.

“I wanted to catch the ball, but I hesitated,” Justin said. “When I did, I lost my chance at catching it.”