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February 2, 2012

It's Already Softball Season: Lutes Open in Hawaii

THIS WEEK: While the university recovers from a recent snow and ice storm that damaged seveal buildings and more than 100 trees, the Pacific Lutheran softball team will open its 2012 season with three doubleheaders in Hawaii. PLU plays Chaminade at 4:30 p.m. (HST) on Friday, Feb. 3, against Hawaii Pacific at noon (HST) on Saturday, Feb. 4, and against BYU-Hawaii at 1 p.m. (HST) on Monday, Feb. 6.

THE HAWAIIANS: Junior second baseman Glenelle Nitta (Mililani) started the influx of Hawaiian players into the Pacific Lutheran softball program with the 2010 season. Last year, she was joined by shortstop Lindsey Matsunaga (Kaneohe), and "the Hawaiians" became an outstanding middle infield combination while earning first team All-Northwest Conference honors. The Hawaii saga continues, thankfully, with frosh Kylee Oshiro (Aiea) and Tori Hamura (Honolulu). The Hawaii foursome gets to open this season playing in front of family and friends under sunny, 80-degree skies. Not a bad way to open the season - for all of the Pacific Lutheran players.

SEASON OUTLOOK: With seven position starters and its top two pitchers returning, Pacific Lutheran figures to give Linfield a run for the conference title, in addition to making some noise in Division III national circles. In the Northwest Conference preseason coaches poll, the Lutes received one of the eight first-place votes (Linfield got the other seven) and is ranked second behind the Wildcats. Following is a positional breakdown of this year's team. "I have 16 players who could start with most other teams," head coach Erin Van Nostrand said. Finding playing time for such a talented group, she added, is "a good problem. Every year our personnel gets a little better, so we can play the way I want." That means opponents will face a PLU team that will play aggressively on offense in support of solid pitching and defense.

PITCHER - The top returnee is senior pitcher/outfielder Stacey Hagensen (Bellevue, Wash. / Newport HS), who earned 2011 NWC Pitcher of the Year honors after compiling a 21-6 record, a 2.30 earned run average and 18 complete games. When not pitching she will play right field for the Lutes. Hitting in the No. 3 spot last year, Hagensen hit .367 with eight homers and 39 runs batted in. "Stacey is going to get the important innings, and she is going to be better this year because she has a sense or urgency," said Van Nostrand. The other returning pitcher is Kaaren Hatlen (Woodinville, Wash. / Woodinville HS), who has added several miles per hour to a fastball that helped her finished 9-5 with a 3.43 earned run average last season. Hatlen will be in the team's No. 4 spot after a 2011 season that saw her hit .410 with 15 doubles, eight homers and 44 runs batted in. She was a first team all-conference utility pick. Newcomer Leah Butters (Portland, Ore. / Cleveland HS) was a three-time Portland Interscholastic League Pitcher of the Year. "Leah gives us the best third option we've had since I've been here," said Van Nostrand, now in her fourth season at PLU.  

CATCHER - Sophomore Katie Lowery (Kennewick, Wash. / Kennewick HS) is the incumbent at catcher after a solid rookie season that saw her hit .259 with three home runs. Frosh Kylee Oshiro (Aiea, Hawaii / Moanalua HS), who will spell Lowery, is smart and has a quick release, according to Van Nostrand. Sophomore Samantha Pryor (Spokane, Wash. / North Central HS), who filled in when Lowery was hurt last season, "is getting better every day," Van Nostrand said.

INFIELD - Several players are in the mix at the corner infield spots. In any given game you could find Hatlen, juniors Lauren Watson (Portland, Ore. / Jesuit HS) and Amanda Hall (Kennewick, Wash. / Columbia Basin College), or frosh Tori Hamura (Honolulu, Hawaii / Mid-Pacific Institute) at first base. Watson, who hit .320 in 2010, is completely healthy after an injury-marred 2011 season, while Hall brings a big power bat from Columbia Basin College. As was the case last year, there are several contenders to start at third base. Senior Ami Gran (Milton, Wash. / Dowling College) earned second team all-conference honors after hitting .271 with four homers, while junior Haley Harshaw (Vancouver, Wash. / Columbia River HS) hit .368 and stole eight bases. Senior Katie Bologna (Coeur d'Alene, Idaho / Spokane Falls CC) is in the hunt for playing time at third base, as is Oshiro. "It's going to depend on who is playing defense and who is swing a hot bat," Van Nostrand said. The middle infield is set with "the Hawaiians," junior Glenelle Nitta (Mililani, Hawaii / Mililani HS) and sophomore Lindsey Matsunaga (Keneohe, Hawaii / Kaimuki HS) at shortstop. Both players earned first team all-conference honors last season. Nitta hit .330 and had a very solid .963 fielding percentage, while Matsunaga had a huge offensive year with a .411 batting average, 10 homers and 44 runs batted in. Both sophomore McKenna Welch (Wilsonville, Ore. / Wilsonville HS) and Oshiro are capable of playing either middle infield position.

OUTFIELD - Senior Amanda Goings (Puyallup, Wash. / Montana State-Billings) earned first team all-conference honors after leading the Lutes with a .411 batting average. Hagensen, as mentioned earlier, will start in right field when not pitching. Sophomore Spencer Sherwin (Federal Way, Wash. / Decatur HS) worked her way into the starting centerfield job last year because of her outstanding speed and glove work and figures to get more plate appearances this season. PLU's depth in the outfield is evidenced by a pair of juniors, Montessa Califano (Renton, Wash. / Liberty HS) and Melissa Harrelson (Rohnert Park, Calif. / Santa Rosa JC). Califano missed most of last year due to a knee injury after a frosh season that saw her hit .368 and earn honorable mention all-conference recognition. Harrelson, recruited as an infielder, "is athletic, very fast, and has great hands," Van Nostrand said. A slapper, she is a major base stealing threat for the Lutes. Sophomore Shelby Hasse also returns for the Lutes and is in the fight for playing time in the outfield.

LOOKING AHEAD: Following the six-game Hawaii trip, the Lutes won't be back in action until they open the Northwest Conference season - and home schedule - when they host Lewis & Clark College on Feb. 25.

TEXAS BOUND: In order to increase her team's strength of schedule as a means of improving its chances for NCAA postseason play, Coach Van Nostrand has scheduled five doubleheaders in six days in Texas. The Lutes will play Hardin-Simmons, Mary Hardin-Baylor, East Texas Baptist, LeTourneau and Texas-Tyler in a series of doubleheaders between March 24 and March 29.

- PLU -