May 6, 2014
2014 MAC Softball Tournament Bracket
MAC Softball Tournament Central
DEKALB, Ill. -The Northern Illinois University softball team begins its quest for a Mid-American Conference title when the Huskies open the 2014 MAC Softball Tournament against Buffalo at Firestone Stadium in Akron, Ohio Wednesday.
The Huskies (23-29, 10-12) enter the tournament as the No. 7 seed, while the MAC East champion Bulls (27-20, 11-5) earned the No. 2 seed. Buffalo took the season series, sweeping NIU April 26-27. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. CT and fans can follow all the action live at the MAC Softball Tournament Central.
"I think anybody win it," said NIU head coach Christina Sutcliffe of this year's conference tournament. "When you look at everybody's record, you can tell anybody can beat anybody on any given day. I think it helps we've split with everyone there, minus our first opponent.
"We're hungry. We're going into the same situation as we did last year, having to beat Ball State after they beat us twice during the year. I think our kids our confident they can do it."
NIU enjoyed an excellent run in last year's tournament, advancing to the championship game for the first time since 1999. NIU knocked off the top seed Ball State Cardinals, twice, but could not get past Central Michigan.
Huskie seniors Shelby Miller (Ottawa, Kan./Ottawa), Ashley Kopp (Burr Ridge, Ill./Hinsdale South) and Nicole Gremillion (Missouri City, Texas/Elkins) turned in solid performances during NIU's run last year and will provide valuable experience and leadership.
Miller has a .307 career batting average in the MAC Tournament, with a double, home run and two RBIs in seven games played, and Gremillion has three doubles, a triple and driven in three runs in seven games at Firestone Stadium. Kopp was sensational at third base in last year's tournament, making some spectacular plays at the hot corner to earn a place on the all-tournament team.
"We're not young there [at the MAC Tournament] any more." Sutcliffe said. "Do we have some young factors that will play into it? Absolutely. Our experience and leadership will be a calming influence. I think they're ready to get it done."
Two first-year Huskies that have played a major role in the team's success this season are 2014 MAC Freshman of the Year Kayti Grable (Santee, Calif./Santana) and sophomore Emily Naegele (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest). Grable leads the Huskies in hitting with a .377 batting average and in home runs with nine. Naegele is the team's leading run producer with 43 RBIs and leads the squad in doubles with 14.
"Kayti comes from a championship background and Emily knows what it takes to win with her year at Radford," she said. "I think they're ready to get it done and step up as leaders and help us do this."
The Huskies are 20-26 all-time in MAC Tournament play and have never faced Buffalo in the postseason. Of the teams in the 2014 field, NIU owns a winning record over Akron and Ball State all-time in tournament play. Central Michigan has proven to be the Huskies' biggest nemesis as the Chippewas have won six of seven MAC Tournament meetings between the two.