DeKALB – The good news for the DeKalb softball team’s opponents early this year is that former all-state pitcher Katie Kowalski still is on a pitch count after having shoulder surgery over the winter.
The bad news is DeKalb’s second pitcher is almost as formidable.
In Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Sycamore, Kowalski came out of the game in the third inning with the score tied, 1-1. But freshman Morgan Newport, who has been dominant this season, came on to pitch three shutout innings.
“It changes our whole dynamic of our team when you have two pitchers who are pretty equal in talent,” coach Jeff Davis said. “Morgan’s good, there’s no doubt about it.”
Kowalski hopes to be back to full strength in about two weeks, but she knows she can take all the time she wants to fully return from her injury with Newport working in relief.
The junior has only pitched 13 innings this year because of a recent setback with her shoulder, but Newport has been outstanding in her stead. The freshman has struck out 40 batters and boasts a 0.88 ERA in 32 innings during DeKalb’s (10-0, 3-0 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) perfect start to the season.
“It’s so nice knowing that I’m able to come back slow from my surgery and work my way back into it,” Kowalski said. “She’s been awesome. ... I love having her on the team. It’s really nice to have that second pitcher your team can rely on, and she’s such a good teammate.”
Newport came on in relief after Kowalski allowed one run in her three innings and struck out six. The Spartans (3-6, 0-4 NI Big 12 East) scored when Paige Bjork drove in junior Lyndsey Coddington, who was pinch-running for Sycamore pitcher Abby Foulk.
But Newport was lights out during her three innings of work. Sycamore coach Jill Carpenter said the differences between the right-handed Kowalski and the left-handed Newport made things especially difficult for the Spartans.
“That’s a good switch,” Carpenter said. “Just when you think you’re getting on them, they switch it up. That’ll be a good tandem for them.”
The Barbs tied the score in the third inning, when senior Hannah Walter drove in Tayler Garland, then took the lead for good in the fifth as Sarah Friedlund drove in Sabrina Killeen. A sacrifice bunt from Garland allowed Jessica Townsend to score in the sixth inning before Newport slammed the door in the bottom of the inning.
The Barbs weren’t thrilled with their offensive performance, but even on those days when the hits aren’t coming, Davis knows the Barbs will be able to pull out wins.
“With those two pitchers that we’ve got, we can win these 2-1, 3-1 ball games,” Davis said. “I’ll get a little gray hair, but a win’s a win.”