Friday, February 22, 2013

'Luteball’ ready to defend title

Softball team ranked No. 1 in preseason poll

By Sam Horn and Christian Dilworth, Sports Writers

    The Lutes landed themselves at the top of NCAA Div. III softball last year, winning the national championship over Linfield.
Senior utility player Melissa Harrelson practices on the new synthetic surface field during softball practice last week. The FieldTurf provides an outdoor practice facility when the dirt softball infield is unplayable. Photo by Frank Edwards.

    The question becomes: can they do it again?

    Pacific Lutheran is certainly in a good position to do so.

    PLU is atop the preseason polls, receiving all eight first place votes from the representative coaches in each region.

    The Lutes have also been picked to win the Northwest Conference but only received five first-place votes. Linfield, last season’s NWC champion, received the other three. The Lutes went 6-3 against Linfield in 2012. 

    Last season, the Lutes finished second in the NWC behind Linfield. PLU then knocked off Linfield in the NWC postseason tournament, earning an automatic bid to the regional tournament. 

    PLU is without the unquestionable leader of last year’s national champion team, Stacey Hagensen, who graduated last spring. Hagensen was the NWC Pitcher of the Year and the Softball College Championship’s Most Outstanding Player. She compiled a record of 28-5 with a 0.97 ERA. The phenom also hit .363 at the plate, amassing a team-high of 65 hits.

    Despite Hagensen’s graduation, PLU has several seniors to take her place and possibly lead the Lutes to another title. One of those seniors is infielder Glenelle Nitta. She started 55 of 56 games last season and batted .267 with two home runs and 18 RBIs.

    Senior Kaaren Hatlen, a pitcher and infielder, will also help round out the effort for a second consecutive national championship for the Lutes.  Hatlen led the Lutes last year with a .426 batting average, 10 home runs and 56 RBIs to earn first-team All-American honors in 2012 as a designated hitter. 

    Amanda Hall will return for her senior year after leading the Lutes with an astounding .995 fielding percentage. Her batting average, .374, was the second-highest on the team.

         Other first-team all-conference returnees for the Lutes is senior  outfielder Montessa Califano and junior shortstop Lindsey Matsunaga.

    Head coach Erin Van Nostrand brought in five first years to the program. Alison Behrends — an outfielder from Marist Catholic High School out of Eugene, Ore. — was a three-time all-state outfielder.
     Kelli Crawford, a pitcher from Franklin Pierce High School in Tacoma, could see playing time in the pitching rotation. She won numerous high school awards, namely 3A South Puget Sound League Pitcher of the Year awards in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and the Most Valuable Player of the 2A SPSL in 2012.

    The Lutes did not play any non-conference games before their conference and season-opener tomorrow at Pacific. However, the Lutes will be making mid-season non-conference trips to Texas and Georgia.