April 24, 2014
DEKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois University softball team wraps up the home portion of its schedule when it returns to Mid-American Conference play by welcoming Kent State and Buffalo to Mary M. Bell Field this weekend.
The Huskies (19-24, 7-7) will face the Kent State Golden Flashes (21-15. 7-3) in a doubleheader on Friday starting at 1 p.m., before welcoming the Buffalo Bulls (21-20, 5-5) to DeKalb Saturday at 2 p.m. The Huskies and Bulls wrap up their series Sunday at 1 p.m. for Senior Day. Fans can follow all the action live via Gametracker or they can watch it live on NIUTube at NIUHuskies.com.
This weekend's games will go a long way in seeding for the 2014 MAC Tournament, as NIU is currently third in the West division with Kent State and Buffalo in second and fourth respectively in the East.
"We want to go into this weekend and learn how to win two games in one day and just to put us in a position to not have to rely on the last weekend in the MAC to make the tournament," NIU head coach Christina Sutcliffe said. "It's completely in our hands so if we do that this weekend, then we'll have a lot less pressure going into that final weekend."
NIU dropped a pair of one-run games in a doubleheader against Loyola Wednesday. The offense tallied a three-run second inning in game one, and exploded for nine runs in game two before losing in 10 innings.
Huskies' first baseman Kayti Grable (Santana, Calif./Santee) continues hitting the ball well, batting .395 with a .497 on-base percentage after going 3-for-7 with three walks in the two games on Wednesday.
Jessica Sturm (Wichita, Kan./Goddard) and Rebecca Rupard (Normal, Ill./Normal West) continue to split time in the circle, each getting a start in the doubleheader. Allyson Hecht (Huntington Beach, Calif./Edison) provided over four innings of relief.
The Golden Flashes have won six of their last seven games and are currently on a four-game winning streak. They also tout two of the conference's best pitchers in Emma Johnson and Ronnie Ladines who both posses and ERA under 2.40, with Johnson, the reigning MAC East Pitcher of the Week, keeping opposing hitters at an impressive .201 batting average.
NIU has swept both teams last year and haven't lost a regular season to Kent State since April 10, 2011. The Huskies are 5-3 against Buffalo and 6-2 versus the Golden Flashes since 2010.
"Traditionally we've done well against Kent State so our kids are ready to go," Sutcliffe said. "They understand that they have some pretty good pitching but hopefully our kids stay patient and come up clutch."
Buffalo, like NIU, is .500 in conference and heads into the weekend losing three of four to Bowling Green and Toledo last weekend. The Bulls also have a pitcher at the top of the MAC in Tori Speckman who has a 14-11 record, 18 complete games, an ERA of 2.38 and holding hitters to a .222 average.
"Buffalo has a pitcher (Speckman) who's crafty, slower but spins it really well so we're going to have to go into that game and make adjustments and the quicker we make those adjustments better we're going to have success," said Sutcliffe.