May 2, 2013
DEKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois University softball team closes out the 2013 regular season with a pair of key series against Mid-American Conference foes at Mary M. Bell Field this weekend.
Northern Illinois (20-29, 10-8 MAC) welcomes Toledo to DeKalb for a doubleheader Friday before Bowling Green comes to down Saturday for a weekend set. First pitch for Game One of Friday's doubleheader with the Rockets (15-31, 7-11) starts at 1 p.m. with the second game to follow.
First pitch for the series opener with Bowling Green (25-19, 8-10) Saturday is scheduled for 2 p.m. with Sunday's season finale set for 1 p.m. All game times are Central Time and fans can follow all the action live at NIUHuskies.com through Gametracker or they can watch the games on Huskie All-Access.
This weekend is critical to all three teams and their MAC Softball Tournament hopes. The Huskies enter the weekend as the No. 5 seed, while BGSU is holding onto the No. 6 spot, two games behind NIU. Toledo is fighting for its postseason lives. The Rockets are tied with Ohio and Akron for the eighth and final spot in the tournament.
"Whether we're in the MAC Tournament or not, we're trying to position ourselves for better seeding going into it," said NIU head coach Christina Sutcliffe. "Obviously, if you're a four seed vs. a five seed, it's a lot different game. You only have that single game on Wednesday and it kind of sets you up for the tournament.
"We're aware that the two teams we're playing are chasing us and fighting for the tournament. We need to come out, be sharp and score early and often."
Northern Illinois has been exceptional in conference play as of late, winning nine of its last 10 league games, including sweeps over Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Buffalo and Ohio. First baseman Jennifer Barnett (Indianapolis, Ind./Roncalli) and pitcher Emily Norton (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest) garnered MAC West player and pitcher of the week honors respectively for their performances last week.
During the 10-game stretch, the Huskie pitching staff has posted a 1.85 earned run average with Norton leading the way. The sophomore transfer has posted a 7-0 mark with a 1.76 ERA in 10 appearances. Jessica Sturm
(Wichita, Kan./Goddard) is 2-1 with a 2.01 ERA in eight appearances.
"Emily and Jess are doing really well at mixing the hitters up and keeping them off balance," Sutcliffe said. "They're working as a duo and it's really nice to see."
Sunday is Senior Day for NIU's two seniors, Barnett and Amanda Sheppard (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest). Barnett has played in 202 games, starting 176. A four-year starter, she earned second team All-MAC honors in 2012 and was named to the 2010 MAC All-Freshmen Team. Sheppard has made 187 starts in 200 games during her four-year career. She established career highs in hits (40), home runs (4) and RBIs (22).