Possibilities Abundant for Redbird Softball
Tricia Gaither
Tricia Gaither

Sept. 23, 2005

NORMAL, Ill. - Each time the Illinois State softball team steps on the field this fall, head coach Melinda Fischer will be examining the possibilities and position combinations for the season to come. This weekend will be no different as the `Birds travel to Stone City for the Collegiate Fall Fling.

"This fall we're getting a semblance of possibilities. We're seeing a lot of versatility and that's very important for our program," Fischer said. "We're also seeing people being able to absorb more, in terms of learning different positions. We keep touching base with our players to make sure they aren't losing things that we covered, say a week or so before."

On Sunday, the Redbirds open tournament play with a 9 a.m. rematch with Northern Illinois. ISU defeated the Huskies, 10-2 last weekend at the Orland Park Tournament. Grand Valley will clash with the `Birds at 2 p.m. Then Illinois State ends the day with a 4:30 p.m. game against Northwestern.

"The Northern Illinois game will be a good test for us since we saw them last weekend. We'll be able to tell if we've adequately prepared to be competitive with them two weekends in a row," Fischer said. "Grand Valley provided us with a quality game at this tournament last year. And Northwestern had a tremendous spring season. How we stack up against them will be a good barometer of where we stand looking towards the spring season."

The returners from the 2005 team have been instrumental to the team's success (7-1) this fall.

"Tricia's (Gaither) played great defense all fall, and she's come up with some key hits with runners in scoring position," Fischer said. "Tiffany (Prager) has played well at second (base), and Stacy (Birk) has done well in the circle. Shannon (Nicholson) is still getting back into the routine of things after the injury she suffered in the summer."

The `Birds will need that leadership if they hope to contend for the Missouri Valley Conference title in the spring. Of the 20 players on the roster, only 10 have ever started a game for Illinois State. Yet despite being a young team, Fischer's squad appears to have more depth offensively than last season. Through two tournaments, the Redbirds' team batting average hovers around .350, compared to just .253 during the 2005 season.

"We're very young," Fischer said. "Our depth will depend entirely on how much improvement we see this fall and during the winter. But we've made some strides offensively to where I don't think we'll be relying too heavily on just one or two people."