Softball puts offense, defense to test

By Frank Gogola

Softball will look to keep the hits coming with a four-game weekend tournament.

The Huskies (5-4) will take on the Northern Kentucky Norse (1-8) at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and the Evansville Purple Aces (5-4) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Evansville, Ind., in the Evansville Tournament. They will close out the tournament Sunday against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits (5-8) at 10 a.m. and Evansville at 2 p.m.

NIU is coming off a 3-1 weekend at the Disney Diamond 9 Citrus Classic in Kissimmee, Fla., that saw its schedule reduced from five games to four due to inclement weather.

The Huskies open the tournament against a struggling Northern Kentucky squad that has dropped four games in a row. The Norse, who are making the transition from Division II to Division I, are averaging 1.8 runs per game while batting .179 on the season. They have allowed 9.4 runs per game and a .425 batting clip to their opponents.

“They’re trying to figure things out right now,” said head coach Christina Sutcliffe. “They compete, and they’re very well coached. You have to battle every game, no matter what.”

NIU will take on host-team Evansville twice. The Purple Aces, who are on a three-game winning streak, have been a hit-or-miss team, as they have averaged 3.2 runs per game and allowed 3.6 runs per game.

“They’re definitely an up-and-down team,” Sutcliffe said. “It’s going to be their first home games, so that alone is going to give them a little bit of energy. They’re going to want to perform well in front of their own crowd.”

The third team NIU will take on is South Dakota State, which is on a four-game winning streak after losing eight of its first nine games. Its .283 team batting average is the highest of the three teams NIU will face.

“Traditionally, they’re a pretty fast team,” Sutcliffe said. “They usually put the ball in play, which is going to put some pressure on our defense. So, I think it’s really gonna come down to our defense.”

After committing 2.6 errors per game and allowing 3.8 runs per game in their first five games, the Huskies committed one error per game and allowed 1.75 runs per game in their last four games.

Offensively, they batted .265 (27-102) during their four-game stretch this weekend after batting only .182 (22-121) during their season-opening weekend. With the increased batting clip came an increase in runs — from three to 3.5 per game.

The Huskies will look for their offense and defense to continue to catch up with their pitching. Jessica Sturm leads the Huskies with a 4-2 record, while Allyson Hecht, Rebecca Rupard and Skylar Weinstein have combined to go 1-2.

“Our pitching staff’s goal is to just keep us in games, not necessarily win them,” Sutcliffe said. “Right now, I feel like they’re winning the games for us. They’re doing a great job with their abilities, and they’re getting it done.”