April 10, 2014
DEKALB. Ill. - The Northern Illinois University softball team returns to Mid-American Conference play when it plays host to Ball State and Miami at Mary M. Bell Field this weekend.
NIU (15-18, 3-3) will welcome the Cardinals (20-13, 1-1) to DeKalb for a doubleheader on Friday at 1 p.m. CT before facing the Redhawks (16-17, 4-2) in a two-game series on Saturday (5:30 p.m. CT) and Sunday (1 p.m. CT). Fans can follow all the action live via Gametracker on NIUHuskies.com or they can watch it live on NIUTube. Monthly subscriptions are $6.95 with a yearly subscription at $49.95.
The Huskies are looking to build off of their sweep of Western Michigan last weekend that helped Jessica Sturm (Wichita, Kan./Goddard) and Shelby Miller (Ottawa, Kan./Ottawa) earn MAC West Pitcher and Player of the Week respectively. The Huskies struggled with these two teams last year in the regular season but hope to build on the success they enjoyed against both in the 2013 MAC Tournament. The Huskies went 3-0 against Miami and Ball State in last year's conference tournament.
"This will be a good test for us," said NIU head coach Christina Sutcliffe. "We didn't have a great weekend against them last year. We need to keep our momentum going and keep positioning ourselves within the MAC."
The Huskie pitching staff is going to play a big role in the team's success this weekend. While Sturm's and Rebecca Rupard's (Normal, Ill./Normal West) don't quite reflect it, with a 2.87 and 6.17 ERA respectively, the two have been very effective in the circle, especially late in games.
"They're both doing a really good job," Sutcliffe said of Sturm and Rupard. "Five innings of the game they're usually flawless. It's just trying to figure out those other two innings that will be the key for them this weekend. I have a feeling we'll probably see a complete staff throughout the weekend."
The pitching staff's ability to keep the Huskies in games has given the offense time to settle in. The Huskie offense is hoping to pick up where it left off in MAC play, when it scored 16 runs in the two games against Western Michigan. Kayti Grable
(Santee, Calif./Santana) leads the way for the Huskies at the plate. The freshman first baseman is hitting .381 with six home runs.
"During the midweek games we had our opportunities but we just didn't come through," Sutcliffe said. "They can't come through every time. Hopefully this weekend we'll get going again and score a lot of runs."
Ball State is led by a potent offense hitting for a .326 average and slugging .532. The offense is powered by senior outfielder Jennifer Gilbert hitting .400 with 13 homeruns, 43 RBI and a .950 slugging percentage.
Miami boasts two pitchers, senior Paige Myers and sophomore Amber Logemann, who each have an ERA that is under three runs and as a staff, they hold opposing hitters to a .271 batting average.