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THE INSIDER: Softball

Published: Friday, April 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

SPOTLIGHT ON ...

Brit Huber
Sycamore, senior, first baseman
Huber was 3 for 4 with a home run, double and three RBIs in the first game of a doubleheader against West Chicago on Saturday.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Sycamore at Kaneland, 4:30 p.m. Tuesday The Spartans and Knights square off in a key conference matchup for both teams.

Ottawa at DeKalb, 4:30 p.m. Thursday Could be a challenging Northern Illinois Big 12 crossover game for the Barbs.

POWER RANKINGS

1. DeKalb (10-0, 3-0 NI Big 12 East): Barbs have the look of a team that can make a strong playoff run. 2. Kaneland (7-2): Knights lost a tough game against Yorkville on Tuesday. 3. Genoa-Kingston (2-2, 0-1 Big Northern East): Two tough early, extra-inning losses for Cogs. 4. Sycamore (3-6, 0-4 NI Big 12 East): Pitcher Abby Foulk was strong in the Spartans’ loss to Morris on Tuesday. 5. Indian Creek (2-6): Timberwolves with a key game against Newark this afternoon. 6. Hiawatha (2-3): Hawks lost their first three games before taking two straight.

NOTEBOOK: Undefeated Barbs swinging hot bats

The DeKalb softball team has been crushing the ball all season. One of the Barbs’ latest wins was a 12-1 thrashing of Rochelle.

Jeff Davis’ team remained unbeaten after Thursday’s 3-1 victory against Sycamore, and the coach has been impressed with his lineup. The Barbs not only get on base, but can outslug teams, as well. Taylor Warner, DeKalb’s No. 9 hitter, is hitting better than .350.

“Hitting, we’ve always had, I thought, a pretty good hitting team. This year, their slugging numbers are up,” Davis said. “They hit a lot of doubles and triples and extra-base hits.”

The Barbs’ batting order got even stronger recently with the return of Sarah Friedlund, who had been out with a concussion. Friedlund was DeKalb’s leading hitter a year ago.

“She’s our No. 3 hitter and I penciled her in [the three spot Tuesday] because she needs at-bats. She needs to catch up,” Davis said. “She batted third, put the ball in play, hit it OK, but her timing’s a little off.”

Cogs getting valuable experience early Genoa-Kingston has only two losses this season, and been in extra innings. Ottawa won a nine-inning game against the Cogs and Burlington Central beat them in 10 innings Tuesday. G-K held a 5-0 lead against the Rockets but couldn’t hold on.

Cogs coach Mike Lauer said getting the close-game experience is good early. Burlington Central is with G-K in a tough regional that includes Hampshire, Marengo and Sycamore.

“That could benefit down the road, it’s hard to tell how that will play out,” Lauer said. “Definitely being in that type of atmosphere for extra innings, that could be a good thing come postseason time.

“It’s important to be in those circumstances, especially against teams you’ll be playing in the postseason.”

Defense not a problem for Hawks With the unfortunate weather at the start of the season, most teams weren’t able to hold a ton of preseason practices outside.

Despite not having a lot of real infield practices before the start of the year, errors haven’t been a problem for Hiawatha. Hawks coach David Tamraz estimated his team has only made two errors so far.

The team might not have gotten as much outside work as Tamraz would have liked, but he hit his fair share of grounders in the gym.

“I think our defense speaks for itself,” he said. “I’m a firm believer, you get a couple-run lead, you get big outs. I don’t like big innings. ... One, two runs that’s OK, we can make those up.”

VIEWS: Softball season likely to be longer this year

Last spring, the area’s softball season ended pretty early, especially compared to two seasons ago when two of our schools – DeKalb and Sycamore – made it to super-sectionals.

Kaneland was the only school to win a regional title in 2012, and the Knights suffered a 9-1 loss to Sterling in the Class 3A Belvidere North Sectional semifinals.

The Barbs made the big run two years ago, and judging from the early season returns, I think they’re one team that can make another strong postseason dash in 2013.

DeKalb has great hitting throughout the order, and freshman Morgan Newport has stepped up as a reliable No. 2 starter.

A lot of the Barbs’ success will hinge on the health of junior pitcher Katie Kowalski. Fans saw what Kowalski could do as a freshman, when she finished with a 2.63 ERA and 208 strikeouts in 160 innings as the Daily Chronicle’s Softball Player of the Year.

Kowalski wasn’t healyhy last season. At times, Kowalski’s pitching hand went numb and swelled. She still is having tests done and DeKalb coach Jeff Davis is trying to gradually increase her innings from now until the end of the season to try to keep her healthy.

If Kowalski’s on, DeKalb is not going to be an easy out, although Davis brought up the fact his team’s in a tough Class 4A Jacobs Regional with Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Jacobs and Huntley,

“They play good softball [in that area] and it’s going to be tough to get out of that regional, to be honest with you,” he said. “Not trying to make excuses for you, but our pitchers have to get healthy.”

It is a tough area, and winning in Class 4A isn’t easy either. But if the Barbs are on, it might take a while for them to lose come playoff time.

• Steve Nitz is a staff writer for the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached at snitz@shawmedia.com.

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