Rupard ‘stepping up’ in circle

By Frank Gogola

Freshman pitcher Rebecca Rupard has thrown 79.1 innings this season — exactly 79.1 innings more than she expected to toss in her first season with softball.

The Huskies lost junior pitcher Emily Norton, their No. 1 starter from 2013, to a medical hardship and had only one returning pitcher with 2013 starting experience: junior Jessica Sturm.

Head coach Christina Sutcliffe was in search of a No. 2 pitcher to start behind Sturm, who took over as ace of the staff. From a group of four candidates emerged Rupard, a freshman from Normal West High School who was recruited to play the infield, not pitch.

Despite pitching throughout high school, Rupard said it was hard to get back in the circle at the beginning of the season after not pitching all summer.

“It was tough because I wasn’t expecting [to pitch] at all,” Rupard said. “But because of some injuries I just had to do what was best for our team. … I knew that this is what was best, so I just had to take on the role as best I could.”

In 13 starts in the circle this season, Rupard posted a 4-7 record with a 6.18 ERA and a 1.98 WHIP. She has gone 3-3 in her last six decisions after starting the season 1-4.

“I do watch her when she’s out there,” Sturm said. “Stepping up as a freshman and being the No. 2 pitcher — it’s really a big role — and she’s succeeding in it. She’s doing very well filling in.”

Sutcliffe said the biggest area Rupard has struggled with is keeping the ball in the ballpark. Rupard has given up 14 home runs in 79.1 innings this season, while the rest of the pitching staff has combined to give up 14 long balls in 154.1 innings.

“I definitely need to keep the ball in the park, especially with our defense that we have to back me up because I know that they’re going to make the plays,” Rupard said.

One of the defenders behind Rupard making plays in the field is senior third baseman Ashley Kopp. Kopp has shared some playing time with Rupard, who’s working on gaining experience at the hot corner.

“I’m really excited because behind me Becca has been practicing there, and she has from day one improved so much,” Kopp said. “I think she’s gonna fit into that role very nicely in the future.”

Sutcliffe said Rupard will compete to replace Kopp at third base next season and expects the experience she’s gained will only help her when she moves to the infield next season.

“Pitchers need to react [to the ball] quickly and make split-second decisions out there, and you have to be able to do that at third base, too,” Sutcliffe said. “Her ability to field is above average, and she’s as competitive as anyone out there.”