Fletcher fulfills expectations

By Brian Earle

Baseball has struggled offensively this season, but it has been led at the plate by a newcomer who has started to make a name for himself: sophomore infielder Justin Fletcher.

Fletcher came to NIU as a transfer from Illinois Central College, where he spent his freshman season. In his season as a Cougar, he posted a .378 batting average while driving in 44 RBIs and scoring 44 runs of his own. Despite the success he found playing at junior college, Fletcher craved a much bigger challenge. Fletcher wanted to play Division I baseball.

“I really wanted to come to a place where I thought I could get a lot of exposure, maybe a little more so than at the JuCo level,” Fletcher said. “I wanted to play at the Division I level; it’s always been a dream of mine ever since I was little.”

Right away Fletcher was thrown into the starting lineup, batting leadoff and playing mostly second base for the Huskies. In Fletcher’s first couple games as a Huskie, he struggled at the plate as it took time for him to adjust to Division I pitching.

“A lot of these guys were playing, they’re good not only with their fastball,” Fletcher said. “At JuCo you have the guys that can throw 86, 87, 88, but they can’t spot the off-speed as much as these guys can. So it’s hard when you’re sitting ahead in the count, 2-0, and they can throw changeups for strikes. It just adds a completely different part to the game.”

Since then, Fletcher has been the catalyst for the Huskies’ offense. He leads them with a .293 batting average on 29 hits. He leads the team with four doubles and four triples, while no other Huskie has recorded a triple this season.

“I’ve been focusing on battling each pitch, winning each pitch and taking each at-bat as they come,” Fletcher said. “You can’t dwell on previous at-bats; the outcome of that at-bat is over. You can learn from it positively, but that’s about all you can do with your previous at-bat, so you have to get in there and you have to have an approach … . As far as the results go for each at-bat, all you can focus on is hitting it hard. If you hit the ball hard you have to take the positives in that.”

Fletcher has bounced around in the batting order, hitting anywhere from the leadoff spot to the No. 3 spot. He has been effective hitting at the top of the order, and he is comfortable in any spot he hits.

Fletcher and infielder Tommy Hook has been a force when batting back-to-back in the Huskies’ order as they both have scored a team-leading 15 runs this season.

“I love hitting behind him or in front of him,” Hook said. “Because usually every time I score he’s behind me. It seems like our key to success is scoring together. He and I have scored a lot of runs together, and having him be able to knock guys in and get on base is a big part of our lineup.”

Fletcher’s quick impact at the plate has been essential for the Huskies’ offense this season, and it will need to continue if the Huskies are to find success in conference play this season.

“I’ve always had confidence in my abilities, and as a player that’s really all you can do,” Fletcher said. “You have to focus on controlling the things you can control, which is getting in here, putting in the time, putting in the effort to get better each and every day. If you do that, the sky’s the limit.”