Justin avoids sophomore jinx, continues hot hitting

By Jeff Kirik

For Jill Justin, the biggest problem this season might be deciding what she can do for an encore.

The sophomore center fielder for the NIU softball team set numerous school records last year as a freshman on her way to earning first-team honors on the Mideast Regional All-America and Mid-American Conference squads.

Justin finished the season with a .435 batting average, which was good enough for third in the nation and first in the MAC. NIU Coach Dee Abrahamson said Justin’s success has come mainly because of her competitive spirit.

“The one thing Jill does better than anyone else is she has a great deal of desire,” Abrahamson said. “She’s a very competitive person. When she steps up to the plate, it’s the nine people out on the field against her, and she usually wins.”

Assistant coach Donna Martin noted that Justin has a solid all-around game, but what really makes her stand out is her hitting.

Last year she set NIU records with the .435 batting average, six home runs, 12 doubles, 28 runs batted in, 57 hits and seven game winning RBIs. She also had at least one hit in 37 of NIU’s 42 games, while reaching base in all but two of the contests. Even though she has awesome power, Justin said she does not try to swing for the fences.

“I’m definitely hitting for contact,” Justin said. “I don’t go up (to the plate) thinking about swinging hard. I feel like I swing the same way every time.”

owever, Justin added that in certain situations she does make offensive adjustments.

“When I get two strikes on me, I choke up a little bit. They usually play me deep so sometimes I’ll try to hit the ball in the hole or drop it in front of the outfielders,” she said.

After earning a solid reputation last year, Justin has had more trouble driving in runs this season because many teams intentionally walk her. Yet she said she enjoys scoring runs as well as driving them in.

“At first it (being intentionally walked) doesn’t bother me. I know I’m doing my job by getting on base,” she said. “But when I feel good and really want to hit, it frustrates me because I really want to drive in the big run.”

Justin said one of her goals always has been to hit .500 in a season. So far this season she is right on the pace with 26 hits in 52 at-bats for the 8-9 Huskies.

“That’s always been my dream,” she said of batting .500. “But if I can hit .400 and help the team win, that’s fine with me.”

Justin has been harder to pitch around this year because juniors Sue Kause and Amy Veld have been hitting effectively behind her in the order.

“I knew this weekend (in the Illinois State tournament) if a team walked me, Amy or Sue would pick up the clutch hit,” Justin said.

Offense is not the only area where the sophomore excels. Justin switched from left field to center this year and said she likes the change.

“I like center because I know either way I go, I have someone to back me up,” she said, while adding that being in center gives her more freedom to take chances on balls that might get in the gap.”

Martin added that Justin’s risky defense pays off most of the time.

“She dives for a lot of balls that most people won’t try for,” Martin said. “If she doesn’t make the catch it can make her look bad. However, she gets to a lot of balls most people can’t because she gets a good jump on the ball.

“When a throw to the plate has to be made from the outfield in a critical situation, she’s the person we want to have the ball,” she added.