Sturm, Rupard gel into pitching roles

Junior pitcher Jessica Sturm winds up to pitch during Saturday’s game against the Western Michigan Broncos at Mary M. Bell Field. Sturm is 9-8 after winning each of her last three starts in the circle.

By Frank Gogola

Junior pitcher Jessica Sturm and freshman pitcher Becca Rupard started the 2014 season on different projections, but they have solidified softball’s starting pitching staff.

Sturm, the Huskies’ No. 1 pitcher, began the season with back-to-back victories in the circle and picked up three wins in her first four decisions. Sturm started the season 6-3, but she dropped her next five decisions.

Now, Sturm has won her last three starts, and she credits her better performance in the circle to her change in approach.

“When I was down, I was getting mental about it,” Sturm said. “Now, I realize that my team is here to back me up instead of just trying to do all the work myself. I really just focus on my team making the plays and getting the outs.”

Rupard, who wasn’t recruited to pitch in college but was filling in in the rotation with the loss of junior Emily Norton to a medical hardship, opened the season with two losses Feb. 7 and 8. She didn’t pick up her first win until March 1, but she then dropped two more decisions.

Now, Rupard has picked up wins in three of her last four decisions after starting the season 1-4.

Rupard said the biggest difference between pitching in high school and pitching in college is college batters are more opportunistic.

“If you miss one pitch, they’re going to take advantage of you,” Rupard said. “I’ve realized I have to have my changeup working for me to be successful.”

Head coach Christina Sutcliffe said Rupard has secured the No. 2 starting pitcher spot this season. Sutcliffe said she recruited Rupard to play in the infield and expects Rupard to move back to the infield next season.

“Becca’s done a great job for us,” Sutcliffe said. “She’s shown she can throw some shutout innings, and back-to-back shutout innings are the big thing for us. And having somebody step into that role, she’s done a real good job for us.”

Despite pitching not being NIU’s strong suit, Sutcliffe said she has been impressed with the seasons Sturm and Rupard are putting together.

“They’re doing great,” Sutcliffe said. “Jess had a rocky middle — she started out good, had a rocky middle — but I think she’s back to true form for her.

“I think Becca’s out-pitching what she thought she could do and has done a really good job stepping up into the role she’s been given.”

Sutcliffe said the duo of a left-handed pitcher, Sturm, and a right-handed pitcher, Rupard, is unique and can cause opposing batters trouble.

“[Left-handers and right-handers] are completely different pitchers,” Sutcliffe said. “It makes them have two absolutely different looks [in the circle], which is a nice combination to have.”