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NIU

NIU softball: Harnish dusts off slow start for Huskies

DeKALB – Northern Illinois softball player Bekah Harnish’s hitting during nonconference play to open the season was, in her words, rough.

Then conference games started.

During Mid-American Conference play, the junior utility player has been blazing at the plate and has led the team in batting average as the Huskies enter the final week of the regular season.

“I just had to fight through it,” Harnish said. “I started looking at my mechanics more and stopped trying to focus on the mental stuff. I think that helped a lot.”

During the first 21 games of the season, Harnish was 8 for 55 (.145) at the plate, while the Huskies were only 11-10.

However, in the first conference series of the season – at home against Akron – Harnish went 4 for 9 (.444) and put together a stretch in which she had a hit in 13 of 14 games.

Against Bowling Green on April 1, she went 3 for 3 with two RBIs; at Kent State on April 9, she was 2 for 4 with a run scored and an RBI; against Ball State on April 12, she was 2 for 3 with a run scored and an RBI.

The Huskies (27-18, 13-8 MAC West) won all three games, and after the game against the Cardinals, her batting average was a season-high .280.

In conference games, Harnish leads the team in batting average (.369), is second in on-base percentage (.455) and has a home run and 16 RBIs. For the season, she’s hitting .270 with two home runs and 26 RBIs.

“Harnish has traditionally, in the last three years, started a little slow,” NIU coach Christina Sutcliffe said. “I think she just has to get into a rhythm and just stay with it and get used to seeing live pitching and then she gets going. She definitely gets more locked in when conference starts.”

While Harnish has cemented herself as the Huskies’ No. 2 hitter in the lineup, her versatility in the field is invaluable, Sutcliffe said. During conference games, she has 11 starts at catcher, six starts at second base and four starts at third base.

“It just kind of depends on who we’re playing, to be honest with you,” Sutcliffe said. “Sometimes it works better if we have a little more of a stealing team. ... It’s more whoever’s hot offensively and wherever we need that person to go in, she can flip around.”

There have been three games during MAC play in which Harnish played two positions in the same game.

“It’s definitely different,” Harnish said about finding out where she will play about an hour before the game. “I just try not to think about being at the spot. I try not to prepare to catch or play second. I just kind of wait to find out and then I start preparing.”

Harnish, who was named to the MAC All-Freshman Team in 2015 and made 49 starts last season as a sophomore – mostly at second base – had experience playing multiple positions during her days at Burlington Central and playing on the travel team, the Wasco Diamonds.

“Recruiting her, she played a lot of different positions in travel ball, so we knew she’d be that type of player,” Sutcliffe said. “She’s a smaller stature for a catcher, but she’s got a big punch in a small body, so she can do it.”

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