Softball falls to Illinois State, prepares for double-header

By Matt Hopkinson

Softball could not pick up a win in their first midweek game of the season against the Illinois State Redbirds.

ISU (15-14, 1-2 MVC) had the same amount of hits as NIU (11-19, 1-1 MAC) but made more of them count as it picked up a 7-3 win.

“We weren’t able to get the clutch hit or clutch defensive play when we needed it,” said NIU head coach Christina Sutcliffe in a news release. “They had a couple hits that just fell in that ended up being the difference in the game.”

NIU’s starting pitcher, sophomore Emily Norton, got rouged up early on as she was taxed with five runs on six hits in two innings of work.

Sophomore Jessica Sturm came in to replace her on the mound and excelled in all facets of the game against the Redbirds.

Sturm pitched four innings, giving up just two runs. She was responsible for all three of NIU’s runs, knocking in one on a two-out single in the first and later flashing some power with a two run homer in the top of the third.

“Jess played really well offensively,” Sutcliffe said in a news release. “She’s been putting the ball in play so we moved her up in the lineup today to see what that looked like. Obviously she got the job done when we needed her to.

“Defensively, she came in and shut them down for a while. She pitched a good game. She definitely was the bright spot of the day.”

Following the loss against ISU, NIU is slated to return to MAC play over the weekend, with a double-header against Ball State (19-11, 4-0 MAC) on Friday and a two-game series against Miami Ohio (9-19, 3-1 MAC) on Saturday and Sunday.

Ball State has only lost two games of its last 10, going into the NIU matchup with a loss in its last game, but eight wins before that, and is undefeated in the MAC thus far.

Following the offensive output in the Western Michigan series and the hits tallied up by the Huskies against ISU, junior outfielder Nicole Gremillion believes hot hitting will be key to finding success against MAC opponents.

“I think we hit pretty well…if we stick with our hitting then we can do well,” Gremillion said. “I think we definitely have a good opportunity to sweep this weekend.”

The matchup with Miami Ohio will be the first return for Sutcliffe as she was an assistant coach for the Redhawks the last seven years.

Despite her long tenure there, she doesn’t believe it makes the preparation any different than any other opponent.

“It’s a completely different coaching staff so it’s not like they’re going to have the same philosophy or the same strategies within their play, so it is a little bit different,” Sutcliffe said. “It’s comfortable in the fact that I know [the] capabilities of the players but in the same sense a lot of kids can change throughout a year in what they can produce and what they’re struggling with…I’m expecting to see entirely different players because it’s a different coaching staff.”