Softball travels to SIU for tournament

By Krystal Ward

DeKALB — Softball (6-3) continues its preseason tournament games this weekend as it heads to Carbondale for five games in Southern Illinois University’s Coach B Classic.

Junior pitcher Keegan Hayes said the team has been working on bunting and making adjustments to the lineup hitting-wise to prepare for the tournament.

Sophomore outfielder Katie Lamich said the team is working on picking up the speed of the game again.

“With it being our first couple of weekends out, we’re kind of getting back in the groove of things,” Lamich said. “So, [we’re] just making sure we’re really going fast and realizing the talent that we have.”

Who to watch: First baseman Kayti Grable is off to a hot start this season. She leads the team in batting average (.467), hits (12) and home runs (3). Grable collected nine hits in 18 at-bats, including one home run and two doubles in the Feb. 24-26 Cardinal Classic Tournament.

University of Kentucky Wildcats

NIU has faced the Wildcats (10-4) two times since 1998 and lost both games.

Who to watch: Freshman catcher Bailey Vick leads the Wildcats in batting average (.395) and has not committed an error behind the plate this season. She has 18 total bases and is third on the team in on-base percentage (.425).

University of Illinois at Chicago Flames

The Flames (9-5) lead the all-time series, 29-24, but fell to the Huskies in the teams’ last meeting on Apr. 26, 2-0. Sophomore pitcher Alex Frenz pitched six scoreless innings, and junior Tara Thacker picked up the save.

Who to watch: the Flames’ sophomore outfielder Lexi Watts was named Horizon League Player of the Week Monday. Watts was impressive last weekend (Feb. 24-26) in the Santa Clara Invitational, posting a .471 batting average and racking up a team-high eight hits. She tallied two RBIs and scored three runs while also hitting two sacrifice bunts that brought her runs created average to just above four per game this season.

The Huskies take on the Flames 10 a.m. Saturday.

Murray State University Racers

Who to watch: senior infielder Taylor Odom picked it up in the Racers’ last game against the Iowa State University Cyclones after going hitless in her previous two games. She stepped to the plate five times, collecting four hits and four RBIs against the Cyclones.

NIU battles the Racers 4 p.m. Saturday for the first time in school history.

Western Illinois University Fighting Leathernecks

The Huskies trail the all-time series with the Leathernecks (4-9), 35-38, since 1961. The teams last met on Apr. 26, 2011, and split a doubleheader with the Leathernecks taking the first game, 11-1, and the Huskies taking the second matchup, 10-7.

Who to watch: senior infielder Nina Maggio leads the Bulldogs with 11 RBIs and is tied for first in batting average (.361) and hits (14). She had five hits, two RBIs, one run and one walk in last weekend’s Central Arkansas Tournament.

NIU faces the Bulldogs 9 a.m. Sunday.

Southern Illinois University-Carbondale Salukis

The Huskies will conclude the tournament 1 p.m. Sunday when they take on the tournament host, Southern Illinois.

NIU trails the all-time series, 16-18 and last faced the Salukis (8-7) on Mar. 8, 2015, in a 3-2 loss.

Who to watch: Shaye Harre, senior pitcher and infielder, leads the Salukis in hits (13), on-base percentage (.520), batting average (.351) and walks (13). Harre was also announced as one of 30 candidates in the country for the 2016-17 Senior Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School Award, which is reserved for student-athletes who excel in the community, classroom, character and competition for collegiate softball, Tuesday.