College Softball: Lewis ready for NCAA Division II regional
By Tim O’Brien For Sun-Times Media May 8, 2013 8:16PM
Lewis' Lauren Hanford. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 10, 2013 2:13PM
After qualifying for the NCAA Division II Tournament six straight years, the Lewis softball team came up short in 2012.
While disappointing, it didn’t color the season — in which the team won 31 games — a disappointment for Lewis’ Lauren Hanford.
Far from it. The 2013 edition of the Flyers would have several key players returning. Still ...
“It helped us because it gave us that good motivation,” Hanford said. “Not making it last year gave us a challenge to look at for this season.”
Mission accomplished for the Flyers. Qualifying as an at-large team, No. 4 seed Lewis (30-16) will play fifth-seed Ashland (27-18) at 11 a.m. Friday in the Division II NCAA Midwest 1 Regional at the University of Indianapolis.
The regional is double elimination. With a win Friday, Lewis would play at 9 a.m. Saturday. With a loss, the Flyers would play at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
“Every year, this is the goal, and you want to be part of it,” Lewis coach George DiMatteo said. “There was a void last year because we were done and other teams were playing.”
The Flyers will count on a deep lineup and a solid 1-2 pitching combo in hopes of making a deep tourney run. Seniors Michelle Vucsko (Marist) and Hanford (Morris), fixtures in the No. 3 and cleanup spots, respectively, in the batting order, pack quite the offensive punch.
Entering Friday’s game, Vucsko is hitting .372 with six home runs, 24 RBI and 33 runs. Hanford owns a .356 average with four homers, 41 RBI and 21 runs.
“There’s a good trust between us,” Vucsko said. “I know if I can’t get it done, she will. Our whole lineup from one to nine has gotten a lot better, and there’s that trust throughout the lineup.”
Both seniors credited a patient approach at the plate going a long way toward this season’s success.
“We’re just looking for better pitches. No junk,” Hanford said. “We want to swing at our pitch. As a senior, you want to go out on a high note. There’s some pressure, but you don’t want to let it get to us.”
DiMatteo, who earlier in the season recorded his 1,000th coaching victory, has seen his power hitters deliver time and again.
“I feel Michelle is as good a shortstop as is out there, and Lauren has developed into a premier outfielder,” DiMatteo said. “When you’re looking for that clutch hit, two outs and a runner on third, you can’t ask for better hitters. They love to bat with runners on.”
Jayme Hefler (Glenbard West) has been the table-setter for Lewis in the leadoff spot, hitting .394 with 42 runs and 25 steals. No. 2 hitter Ali Brems gives the Flyers a versatile option, a player who can hit for power or contact, or lay down a bunt.
Lockport’s Kelly Bowler (17-8, 1.81 ERA, 146 strikeouts) and Brems (13-8, 3.23 ERA, 102 strikeouts) are the “Killer Bs” for Lewis in the pitching circle.
Lewis hasn’t faced Ashland since the 2010 Midwest Regional championship, a 4-1 Flyers loss.
“It’s a clean slate this time around,” Vucsko said. “The two teams are so different from two years ago, offensively and defensively. We’ll take it one inning at a time, one game at a time.”
DiMatteo and Co. know that all the hard work in the offseason and during the campaign led toward this moment.
“This is what you strive for,” DiMatteo said. “All the groundballs and flyballs in the gym when it’s snowing out, the girls work so hard for it. This is a veteran group that wanted to get back to the tourney. We’re looking forward to it and see what we can do.”