NIU plays with the best, ranks with the best


The Huskie softball team snapped a 21-game winning streak of the #1 ranked Arizona Wildcats in last Friday’s doubleheader in Tucson, and now find themselves ranked in the Top 25.

In the first game of the twinbill, All-American Susie Parra, 12-0 for the Cats, threw a one-hit shutout and also added two RBI’s for her team. The Huskies lone hit came from Niki VanHooreweghe in the fifth.

They gave up only two runs until the bottom of the sixth when the Cats managed to punch in two more. That was all this Arizona team needed to beat the Huskies, 4-0.

Stacy Paller and her Huskie teammates wanted vengeance, and they wanted it fast. They wasted no time in their nine-hit onslaught of the Wildcats in the nightcap. NIU (6-7) shocked the Wildcats (21-1) in the first inning with four quick runs.

Arizona was clawing its way up in the bottom of the first and managed to load the bases. However, a Kim Compton strikeout and a snagged liner by Paller left the three runners stranded. The Huskie defense forced the Wildcats to abandon 12 runners throughout the game.

“We just got fired up in game two,” head coach Dee Abrahamson explained. “Stacy (Paller) led off, got on base, motivated the rest of the team, and we scored four runs.”

“When we got out of the first inning without giving up any runs, our confidence soared,” Abrahamson said.

It was all Stacy Paller for the rest of the game. With one out, bases loaded, and the Huskies leading 5-2 in the sixth, Paller went far and beyond the call of duty with a grand slam that put the Huskies ahead 9-2.

“I told her that we only needed a sacrifice fly for an insurance run,” Abrahamson explained. “She let out a grunt, and the ball soared over the 220 mark on the six foot wall.”

Arizona fought back and scored one in the seventh. That was all the Huskie defense would allow as they went on to end the Wildcats’ 21-game winning streak by a score of 9-3.

“We had two days off and got to see Arizona play,” Abrahamson said. “We practiced for those two days outside, and that helped us.”

Beating Arizona wasn’t the only force to push NIU into the rankings. The day before the doubleheader with Arizona, the Huskies swept 19th-ranked Arizona State (5-4 and 2-1) in a twinbill in Tempe. Earlier that week, NIU also upset No. 5 Califonia State-Fullerton (2-1) in Tucson.

With a 6-7 record, should the Huskies be in the Top 25? “I don’t think a team with a record below .500 should be ranked,” Abahamson admitted. “We’re not worried about our record right now. We just concentrate to get in the position to win and always stay in the game.”

NIU could have done better in the Arizona tournament, but Abrahamson said they couldn’t get the breaks.

“We had our moments, but we couldn’t put innings back to back.”

The Huskies, as do all northern schools, play the beginning part of the season on the road due to the cold weather.

“The weather on the road helps,” Abrahamson said, “It gave us extra practice before the Arizona games. Outside you can create game situations. In a gym, you can’t do that,” Abrahamson explained.

“Most of the better schools are in the South because they have the good weather year-round. Playing nationally-ranked teams early in the season will help the team in conference play. Our best shot to the College World Series is to win the conference,” Abrahamson said. “When we get there, we can say, ‘we’ve had worse; we can handle this’.”

Indoor practices will have to suffice for the Huskies until they travel to Columbia for the University of Missouri tournament on March 26-28.