Road accommodations fit NIU victory designs

By Jeff Kirik

The NIU softball team has not been a very good guest so far this season. In fact, the Huskies have been somewhat offensive to their hosts.

During a long early-season road swing NIU has established a 7-5 record and hit for a team batting average of .315. The Huskies will stay on the road as they head to Illinois State’s Redbird Tournament this weekend, where they will make a bid to better the third-place finish they registered at the Southern Illinois Saluki Tournament last weekend.

NIU will face DePaul, Indiana State and Illinois State on Friday. Saturday will feature a round-robin tournament of the teams with the best records from Friday.

“We’re going to need a little stamina this weekend,” NIU coach Dee Abrahamson said. “This is the first time this year we will play three games in a day. I’d like to see us respond well by keeping our concentration in all three games.”

So far this season the bulk of offensive production from the NIU batting order has come from three sources. The quick bats of Jill Justin, Sue Kause and Amy Veld have considerably boosted the team batting average and driven in a majority of the team’s runs.

Sophomore centerfielder Justin leads the way so far with a .526 batting average. Veld is second on the team at .432 while Kause is third at .416. Veld, a junior shortstop, has been the surprise leader in the runs-batted-in race. Abrahamson attributes Veld’s high RBI total of 14 to her teammates’ ability to get on base.

The Huskies’ batting eyes will have to be focused this weekend, because they will face some top pitching in the 12-team tournament.

Some of the toughest pitching will come from Illinois State. NIU defeated ISU, ranked 16th in the nation, last week in the SIU tournament. Abrahamson said she expects the Redbirds to be competitive at their tournament.

“I think they will play a little better than they did last week,” she said. “It will be a challenge for our kids to beat them again.”

Abrahamson admitted she knows little about DePaul, a team which NIU will oppose next year in the North Star Conference.

“We’ll see the same type of pitching (slow) from DePaul that we saw from Evansville (in a 2-0 loss last weekend). I want to see how much we learned,” Abrahamson said.

Another key for NIU will be pitching. Abrahamson and assistant coach Donna Martin said they have been happy with the improvement of their young mound corps. The three Huskie hurlers feature a variety of strengths and weaknesses.

Abrahamson said the variety helps her because she can use each pitcher’s varied strengths to take advantage of weather conditions, the kind of a strike zone an umpire has and certain other game situations.

Abrahamson does not have a set starting lineup yet, but noted she has three catchers who will see ample action. Besides being catchers, Lynn Lacey, Pat Faletti and Heidi Hutchinson all play at least one other position.

“All three of our catchers will be in the lineup when they’re there (at the game),” Abrahamson said.