Barring another outburst from Muncie's fickle weather, the softball team (9-10, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) will look to resume play this weekend as they host MAC West division leader Northern Illinois (10-13, 4-1 MAC) at the Ball State Softball Complex. Originally slated for a three game series on Friday and Saturday, the Cardinals and Huskies will now play two games, with a 1 p.m. doubleheader on Saturday.
Head coach Terri Laux said that, even with the favorable weather in the latter part of the week, the field would not be ready by Friday.
"It's tough being outside for a while then having to go back inside (to practice)," Laux said. "The biggest thing we've done this week is focus on staying fresh and sharp, and improving on the little things from when we played them a couple of weeks ago."
The Cardinals have already played Northern twice this season, beating the Huskies 5-4 on Mar. 16, and by the same score on Mar. 17 during the Indiana Invitational in Bloomington. But the Husky bats have come to life since then. Last weekend Northern swept a three game series from Toledo, outscoring the Rockets 24-4, including a 12-0 drubbing in the final game. On Wednesday, the Huskies beat preseason MAC East favorite Kent State 10-6. Northern's powerful attack is led by Paige Shemoski (3 HR, 16 RBIs) and Tonia Del Toro (15 RBIs).
"Obviously Northern Illinois has offensive firepower, and our object this weekend will be to shut that down and score some runs of our own," Laux said.
One way of accomplishing that feat will be to attack a talented but young Husky pitching staff. Led by freshman Kathy Dearborn (6-3), the Huskies put forth perhaps their best effort of the season against Toledo. Dearborn, Amy Krahula and Jolene Heller each pitched a complete game victory, recording a total ERA of 0.37 for the series. Still, Laux feels the Cardinals have the pitching advantage.
"A big plus going into this weekend is that they haven't seen Randi (Freese) yet," she said. Freese was injured when the teams met two weeks ago. "That's a tremendous advantage for us because Cortney (Winger) and Amy (Brownfield) kept them off balance in those two games and with Randi back, we have the edge."
With a complete pitching staff back in place, supported by a strong defensive effort this season (a MAC best .971 fielding percentage), Laux hopes the Cardinal offense finally develops some consistency this weekend. The Cardinals' batting average of .222 is currently tenth in the MAC, while Northern leads the league at .295.
"There's no team in the MAC better than we are at all three facets of the game - fielding, hitting and pitching," Laux said. "We just need to get all three clicking at the same time."