Softball to take swing at in-state rival Loyola


Junior outfielder Bryanna Phelan readies to swing at a pitch against Ball State April 11 at Mary M. Bell Field. NIU’s offense is looking to rebound vs. Loyola at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. today in Chicago after struggling over the weekend.

By Frank Gogola

Softball will take a break from conference play but stay in the state for a midweek doubleheader.

The Huskies (19-22) will take on the Loyola Ramblers (17-27) at 3 and 5 p.m. today at Loyola Softball Park in Chicago.

“It’s important for us to go in — we recruit regionally against Loyola — so I think it’s important for us to go in and try to take care of business and do what we know we can do,” said head coach Christina Sutcliffe.

The Huskies head to Chicago with an 8-6 record in April; however, they went 4-6 in their last 10 games. They haven’t won back-to-back games since they won a season-high four games in a row April 2 to 6.

In the weekend finale against Eastern Michigan, the Huskies moved up senior Shelby Miller in the batting order from No. 4 to No. 2 and freshman Becca Rupard down from No. 2 to No. 6, pushing up sophomore Emily Naegele to No. 4 and junior Jessica Sturm to No. 5. Sutcliffe said the moves were mainly made in an attempt to provide protection for No. 3 hitter Kayti Grable.

“I think we’re going to stay with that for a little bit, at least through Loyola, and see how it works,” Sutcliffe said. “Kayti’s getting walked a lot, and we’re hoping to just load the bases up prior to her hitting so that now they can’t walk her and pitch around her.

“We’re trying to get Shelby a couple better pitches and take a little pressure off of Becca in the same sense and get them both going within one move.”

The Huskies averaged 3.75 runs per game and left an average of 9.25 runners on base over their four weekend games. Sutcliffe said the Huskies are looking to strand fewer runners against Loyola, get off to a faster start offensively and close the deal in the seventh.

Sutcliffe said Sturm and Rupard will “more than likely” start in the circle for the Huskies, but the coaching staff has not yet decided because Sturm and Rupard need to “take care of their arms for the weekend” conference games.

The Ramblers enter the non-conference matchup with a 5-11 mark in April. They ended a five-game skid with a Tuesday win.

At the plate, the Ramblers are led by a group effort that averages 3.6 runs per game.

Junior infielder Jessica Balzano paces Loyola in batting average (.297) and on-base percentage (.366). Senior infielder Lauren Moore leads the Ramblers in hits (39), doubles (13), home runs (six) and RBIs (25). Sophomore infielder Brie Pasquale leads Loyola in runs scored (26) and walks (19).

“I think they just are a pretty scrappy team,” Sutcliffe said. “They don’t have a ton of speed and they don’t have a ton of power, but in the same sense they’re figuring out how to get it done in some games, and they’re competing within their conference.”

In the circle, the Ramblers’ main starting pitcher is senior Brittany Gardner. Gardner has gone 13-12 with a 3.29 ERA. She’s pitched 157.2 innings, while Loyola’s three other pitchers have thrown a combined 129.2 innings. The Ramblers’ pitching staff has allowed an average of 5.4 runs per game.