Face-off: The outlook of NIU baseball and softball

By Brian Belford and Tony Osborne

Brian Belford: It’s cold outside Tony, and with football completely over, the only sports that may be on people’s minds are basketball and hockey. However, NIU baseball and softball are getting into gear. In fact, they’ve already been practicing outside. I can’t wait to sit in the stands with a hot dog and watch some baseball, but how do you think the baseball team will look this year?

Tony Osborne: This should be an exciting year for Huskies’ baseball, Brian. Last season, NIU finished strong, paving the way for what seems to be another fun season to watch. The position players that are returning, mixed with some talented newcomers, should make for a solid team for coach Ed Mathey to work with. How do things look on the other side of the spectrum with softball, Brian?

BB: I think the NIU coach Lindsay Chouinard did a great job of recruiting some new talent. Freshmen twins Kaitlyn and Kristyn Barrett look like they can contribute some solid production. Freshman pitcher Megan Dortch should have an immediate impact. NIU will look to its lone seniors, third baseman/catcher Carly Norton and outfielder Dani Parrish, to provide some much needed leadership. The Huskies will look to improve on their 26-27 record last year. Who are some key players that will have an impact in baseball?

TO: Last season the baseball team showed they can handle a tremendous amount of adversity, as they started their 2011 campaign with a record of 0-10. The Huskies would surge back to win 30 games. Mathey said that is only the fourth time in school-history the baseball team has posted 30 victories. The anchor of the infield, Alex Jones, will be looking to continue his draft hopes after a strong junior season. The senior posted a .352 batting average in 57 games last season. But, not only does Jones bring it from the left side of home plate, he also holds down the middle infield, as he posted a .967 fielding percentage last season.

BB: If there is one player to watch for in NIU softball, it might be Stephanie Tofft. She might be on the verge of stardom here at NIU after compiling a school-record 36 game hit streak last year. She also hit .434, while having 24 multi-hit games and led the team in runs scored with 46.

TO: The only other player to play in 57 games last season was outfielder Troy White. White’s batting average also topped the .300 mark at .304 in 217 at bats. White has turned out to be a great pick up for the Huskies, as he batted .354 in MAC play. With the senior leadership possessed in White and Jones, there shouldn’t be a problem filling the positions of those who did not return.

BB: Sounds like baseball has a solid nucleus of players that it can rely on this year. Besides Tofft, NIU brings back sophomore Shelby Miller, who hit .368 last season. The Huskies do lack some power at the plate, after losing home run leader Adriana Sanchez. However, Tofft, who hit four home runs, and Parrish, who also hit four long balls, should be able to step up and provide some much needed punch. Who are the power hitters in baseball this year, Tony?

TO: Wow, Tofft seems like she can really hit. It seems as though this Huskies’ squad will be looking to play some small ball, move runners over and play some exciting baseball. Junior Jeff Zimmerman will be returning. Zimmerman posted 11 home runs for the Huskies last year, most from the designated hitter position. The next closest in home runs was both White and Jones with three a piece. NIU will also be relying on its closer down the stretch. Oak Park native Kyle Glancy has been named to the Preseason Stopper of the Year Watch list. Glancy recorded 12 saves with 23 strikeouts last season. How does the softball team look from the pitchers mound, Brian?

BB: I would say pitching wise, the softball team will rely on some unproven freshman, such as Dortch and Allyson Hecht. Nicole Gremillion will have to step up as well, although Jessica Sturm should provide some nice stability. Plus, they can always turn to Tofft, their best pitcher last season, if they need to.

TO: Well Brian, it’s apparent that we are staring down the start of a fun season. With the baseball and softball teams looking solid, NIU fans will have a lot to look forward to.

BB: Well, I think the best part will be that it can only get warmer out. See you in the press box, TO.