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Kaneland wins NI Big 12 East, but Barbs still confident

DeKALB – DeKalb softball coach Jeff Davis’s confidence hasn’t waned.

With one game remaining before the postseason, the Barbs haven’t exactly closed out the regular season on a high note after losing three in a row, including Thursday’s Northern Illinois Big 12 East championship-deciding 4-0 loss to Kaneland. But Davis is resolute that his team is ready for the postseason, even though they’ve struggled against three quality opponents this week.

“I don’t think there’s anything to turn around to be honest,” Davis said. “We’re a good softball team, they were better today.”

Kaneland pitcher Ellissa Eckert dominated the Barbs all day.

The senior didn’t allow a base runner until the fourth inning, when DeKalb’s Sabrina Killeen finally broke through for the Barbs (19-8, 7-3 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) with a single.

“Our hitters sat up there and took first-pitch strike after first-pitch strike,” Davis said. “It’s a known statistic that your batting average is best on a 0-0 count, and we’re sitting up there and getting in a hole.”

By the time DeKalb reached base, the Knights (21-3, 9-1 NI Big 12 East), who won their second consecutive conference championship outright with the win, were already ahead 3-0. Lexi Roach singled and scored on an error in the first inning to open the scoring for the Knights. The junior reached base on a bunt in the third inning and scored on a wild pitch before Paige Kuefler drove in Allyson O’Herron with a double.

Lanie Callaghan homered in the sixth inning, and Eckert’s performance along with a great defensive showing gave the Knights a shutout.

“I thought she pitched the ball phenomenal, best game she’s ever pitched for us today,” Kaneland coach Brian Willis said. “She’s not going to blow people away, we know that, she’s not going to get 100 strikeouts a game, but she’s going to throw strikes, and you can see how good our defense is. When we put the ball in play, our defense has been outstanding.”

Eckert replaced 2012 Daily Chronicle Player of the Year Delani Vest, who now plays for Northern Illinois, in the circle this season. Even though she had quite an act to follow, Eckert has made a name for herself in her own right.

“It’s hard coming back after [Vest], but it’s nice to know that I just helped keep the team going,” said Eckert, who only allowed five hits. “I felt awesome today.”

Once again, the Knights showed that they’re the dominant team in the conference.

“I feel good, I’m happy for the girls, back-to-back conference champions,” Willis said. “They’re 50-10 in the last 60 games and I don’t think anyone would even know that.”

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