Sunday, April 27, 2003

College Update

For NKU, winning starts with pitching

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Just ask Northern Kentucky softball coach Kathy Bown about her pitching staff - a staff of two freshmen and a sophomore who are legitimate aces - and watch her eyes light up.

"It's a great feeling, knowing that they're going to be here for a while," she said. "Because you think about how much of the game is pitching. And we've got pretty good pitching."

Sure, and Tiger Woods has pretty good accuracy.

Right now for the Norse, pretty good means having a three-person staff - sophomore Emily Breitholle and freshmen Krystal Lewallen and Sarah Newland - with a combined ERA of less than 1.00. It means the pitchers get wins in more than three-quarters of the games they start. Pretty good is a third starter with a 0.47 ERA. Pretty good is recording two no hitters - on the same day.

It was a doubleheader a week and a half ago, at Georgetown, when Lewallen and Breitholle pitched no-no's.

"Following anyone that pitches well is always tough, especially if they throw a no-hitter," said Lewallen, who pitched the second game. "But it kind of pushes you a little bit to do better."

Breitholle, a 20-game winner last season and the team's ace, has been pushed a lot this season by the two newcomers. Her 1.45 ERA and .667 winning percentage were third behind her two staffmates entering Saturday, but Breitholle, a Fairfield grad, says she's more comfortable in her second season at NKU.

"Things come a little easier because I know the system and I've been here for a year," she said. "But now, with these two freshmen here, they kick your butt and keep you going and make you get it in gear. We definitely push each other."

And offer advice, too, according to Newland, the third pitcher.

"Emily, at the beginning of the year, I remember her telling us to keep the ball down," Newland said. 'It's not like high school anymore,' she told us. 'You can't let it get up.' "

The two freshmen learned the ropes quickly, helping the Norse through a tough stretch at the beginning of the season that was made worse by a struggling offense. The team was 6-5 after a trip to Florida to start the season. In their first nine losses, the Norse were shut out six times. In the first half of their season, they won five games by the score of 1-0.

Eventually, the team started to hit.

"Now with our hitting, it's kind of a contagious thing," Bown said. "Now the girls have more confidence."

The Norse split a doubleheader with Wisconsin-Parkside Saturday, losing 3-2 then winning 2-1 behind Breitholle's five-hitter.

NKU (34-12, 14-4 GLVC) trails SIU-Edwardsville (37-9, 15-3) in the Great Lakes Valley Conference standings.


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