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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Sports

PLU Softball returns to championship form


ON THE MOUND: PLU softball catcher Shannon Fritzke '02 and pitcher Melissa Korb '02

By Nick Dawson

One year after compiling a 26-10 record and winning their 15th Northwest Conference championship in the past 16 seasons, the 2002 Lutes hope to add to the outstanding tradition synonymous with Pacific Lutheran softball.

The Lutes go into this season with eight position starters returning from the 2001 team that lost in the regional championship game by one run in extra innings. Many of the returning players for the Lutes have posted numbers that are among the best in the conference, region and nation, as well as in PLU history.

In addition to the traditionally difficult Northwest Conference schedule, the Lutes will be traveling to the Los Angeles area over Spring Break to take on opponents Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Pomona-Pitzer and Occidental. These games against West Region opponents, in addition to the conference results, are important in determining possible berths in the national playoffs. In three previous years as a NCAA Division III member, the Lutes have been a national tournament qualifier, twice reaching the regional title game. Another exciting aspect of the upcoming season is that all but three schools are being played on the Lutes' home field.

PITCHING
Senior Melissa Korb is a three-time first team all-conference pitcher and has also earned all-region and All-America honors in previous years. Korb, who holds the school record with an average of 9.9 strikeouts per game, ended the 2001 season with a 10-4 record, 1.63 ERA, and 109 strikeouts in 94 innings. Her career numbers are astounding with a 48-8 record, 1.02 ERA and 9.3 strikeouts per game. Offensively, Korb has hit over .300 each of her three previous seasons, including a .324 average with two home runs and 24 RBI last year. Sophomore Jewel Koury had an outstanding freshman season with an 8-4 record and 2.25 ERA. Offensively, she hit .391 with 20 runs, 36 hits, three home runs and 22 RBI to earn second team All-America honors. Korb and Koury will be taking the bulk of the pitching load for the 2002 season. Sophomore Sara Shideler may see some action on the mound this year as well.

CATCHER
The catcher position has a good mix of experience and youthful talent. Shannon Fritzke had a solid junior year, hitting .397 with six home runs and 30 RBI. She earned first team all-conference and all-region honors for the third consecutive season. In 2000, she was named the NCAA Division III Catcher of the Year and first team All-American after hitting .510. Sophomore Resa Lee will spend more time behind the plate in the upcoming season and will add another powerful bat to the lineup. Adding excellent depth at this position are freshmen Mary Jo Marquardt, Claire Barr and Stacie Wyman.

INFIELD
The left side of the infield will be filled by juniors Jenny Ferries and Alicia Guerrero. Ferries earned 2001 NWC first team all-conference honors after hitting .339 with four homers and 32 RBI, and she will start at shortstop for the third straight year. Guerrero, one of the quickest players in the conference, showed continued improvement at third base last year after moving over from second base. Guerrero had a .316 batting average, 32 runs and seven stolen bases last year, and could exceed those numbers this season. Shideler will try to top last year's fielding percentage of .989 and her offensive contribution of .287. She should show improved power numbers in 2002. Adding more depth to first base and added power at the plate is freshman Kristin Petersen. Freshman Andrea Wells will most likely hold down the second base position with her strong fielding skills and speed both on the field and on the bases.

OUTFIELD
Last season's starting centerfielder, McKenna Dotson, will be missed, but she was the only 2001 starter who graduated. The Lutes return with a pair of starters in the outfield. Senior Irene Bryant, one of the team captains along with Fritzke and Ferris, hopes to return to the form that earned her first team all-conference honors in 2000. Sophomore Kelsey Palaniuk gears up for her second season with the Lutes after a promising freshman year in which she hit .307 with eight doubles and also played solid defense. Senior Jacy James is another candidate for a starting outfield position, and she has proven her ability at the plate primarily as a designated player and pinch hitter. Returning to the team, but a newcomer to the outfield, is sophomore Renee Clark. Clark made the move from infield and will compete for playing time in the outfield as well as continuing to use her speed as a pinch runner. Among the talented newcomers with a shot at a starting spot are freshmen Jackie Nuechterlein, Ally Mrachek and Claire Barr. Nuechterlein has shown great speed and a strong arm during pre-season. Mrachek who also played this fall for the PLU volleyball team has excellent speed, while Barr joined the team in January after transferring from College of the Siskiyous.

Put these factors together, add in new assistant coach Carli Rasmussen, a former Pacific Lutheran all-conference outfielder, and the ingredients seem to be in place for continued PLU softball excellence.



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