May 11, 2010
|HUSKIE ALL-ACCESS HIGHLIGHTS
DEKALB, Ill. - It will be déjà vu all over again for the Northern Illinois University softball team when the Huskies open the 2010 Mid-American Conference Softball Tournament against defending tournament champion Miami in their opening game at Firestone Stadium in Akron, Ohio Wednesday. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Central Time.
"It's wonderful to be in the MAC Tournament," NIU head coach Lindsay Chouinard said. "This team has worked so hard and made so much progress this season."
NIU (22-32, 10-10) and Miami met in the opening game of the last year's tournament, a 2-1 RedHawk victory. The two met again later in the tournament with Miami (31-22, 14-8) winning that contest, 3-0, ending the Huskies' run. Northern Illinois is 1-3 versus the RedHawks in tournament play with its lone victory, a 1-0 decision, coming in 2007 and owns a 22-13 record against Miami, sweeping the season series this year at Mary M. Bell Field.
After dropping their first game, the Huskies' made an improbable run in the 2009 MAC Tournament coming to within a game of the championship game. NIU defeated Bowling Green, 9-4, and came from behind to beat No. 2 seed Kent State, 4-3, with three runs in the bottom of the seventh. With that experience under their belt and the most wins since 2007, the Huskies look to improve on last year's performance.
"I think we're going to come with a lot of confidence," Chouinard said. "The girls are going to play with confidence. They've played in Akron before and they understand what it's all about. They know how to be successful."
Two members of this year's squad, pitcher Morgan Bittner (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Poly) and right fielder Zoe Sinner (Downers Grove, Ill./Downers Grove South), who played major roles in the success of NIU in last year's tournament will need to play well this week. Sinner, who had the game-winning RBI single against the Golden Flashes last year, leads the way for the Huskie offense.
Sinner has turned in a career year during her record-setting junior campaign. She set the school record for career home runs in a season hitting her 11th of the year in her first at bat against Eastern Michigan on Saturday, while her .662 slugging percentage this season ranks fourth all-time in NIU history. In addition to leading the team in home runs and slugging percentage, she leads the Huskies in eight other categories including batting average (.331), on-base percentage (.432), runs scored (32), runs batted in (28) and doubles (11), all career highs.
Bittner has improved on her All-MAC season of a year ago. The NIU sophomore has surpassed last year's 14-win season, recording a 17-14 mark in 2010 and has 156 strikeouts in 206.2 innings. She has allowed 83 earned runs for a 2.81 earned run average, improving on last year's 3.26 ERA.
The Huskies also have a solid group of freshman, led by Adriana Sanchez (San Fernando, Calif./Alemany). Sanchez, who began the season at shortstop, moved to third and is now playing catcher, has not allowed her position changes to affect her performance at the plate. Among the team leaders in several categories, she is second on the team in home runs (five), triples (one), doubles (10) and slugging percentage (.500).
"Those three have done a great job for us and really set the tone for what this team is doing," she said of Sinner, Bittner and Sanchez. "I'm just really proud of the three of them and I'm going to look to them to lead us at the tournament."
Miami enters the tournament winners of eight of its last 10 sweeping Ohio and Akron this past weekend. The only team to defeat the RedHawks during that stretch, the Huskies posted a 3-2 10-inning win May 1 and a 4-2 victory May 2 at home.