Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Softball believes big

By Nathan Shoup, Sports Reporter

Last year, the national champions of NCAA Div. III softball lost three games, finishing with a 51-3 record. That team was Linfield. Responsible for one of the three Linfield defeats was the Pacific Lutheran softball team.

Now the Lutes are ready to challenge Linfield for the Northwest Conference crown.

“It’s a whole new ball game this year and we’re going to be the team that stands in their way of winning another championship,” infielder junior Haley Harshaw said.

The 2011 squad that knocked off the national champions 10-2 in their first meeting of the year finished 31-13 overall and 23-5 in the NWC, a full six games ahead of third place Whitworth.

The NWC picked PLU to finish in fourth place behind Linfield, Willamette and Pacific. The Lutes were also picked to finish fourth last season before claiming second.

The Lutes return all but four players from last year’s second-place squad, graduating outfielder Kaely Cuthill. Cuthill started all 44 games that season and led the team in at bats, hitting .329.

“We lost a valuable senior last year, but we have a large group of returning starters and a strong group of new players,” outfielder senior Amanda Goings said.

PLU is also without utility player junior Ally VanSchoorl, outfielder sophomore Mary Scofield and catcher sophomore Chelsea Moorhead. Each left the team for personal reasons.

Among the returners for the Lutes are First-Team All-NWC selections infielder junior Glenelle Nitta, infielder sophomore Lindsey Matsunaga, pitcher/infield junior Kaaren Hatlen, outfielder senior Amanda Goings and pitcher/outfielder senior Stacey Hagensen. Hagensen was also the NWC pitcher of the year and a Third-Team All-American.

One of the Lutes team’s sayings this year is “day by day.”

“We’re trying to take it one day at a time,” Hagensen said.

For the Lutes, this means focusing this weekend when Whitworth comes to town for doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday.

“We focus on each game at a time,” Goings said. “Every game is as important at the next.”

With high expectations carrying over from last season, the Lutes started this season off sluggishly, going 2-4 against NCAA Div. II schools in Hawaii Feb. 3-6. The Lutes lost by one run in three of those games.

“I know that we could have done better,” Hagensen said. “We played some good teams and we got practice playing in close games, but now we need to learn how to finish those games.”

Last weekend, the Lutes opened conference play against Lewis and Clark and Pacific, going 4-0 and outscoring the opponents 40-8. The Lutes didn’t get much in the way of learning how to finish out close games but they did send a message to the NWC.

The official NWC standings at nwcsports.com currently puts PLU at the top of the standings, ahead of Linfield, despite the fact they are both currently undefeated in conference.

“We’re not just going after Linfield for the NWC title,” Harshaw said. “We want it all.”