LUTES OPEN NWC SCHEDULE: The Pacific Lutheran University softball team opens its Northwest Conference schedule this weekend with four home games. Pacific Lutheran opened the 2012 season back in early February in Hawaii, going 2-4 on the trip. Saturday, the Lutes take on Lewis & Clark College in a doubleheader scheduled to begin at noon. The next day, PLU closes out the weekend with a doubleheader against Pacific University. First pitch Sunday is scheduled for noon.
SHAKING OFF THE RUST: The return to the diamond will be a long time coming when PLU takes the field Saturday afternoon. Having not played since Feb. 6, the Lutes will have gone 18 days between games.
HOT-HITTING HATLEN: Junior Kaaren Hatlen has started off the season in much of the same form she finished the 2011 season. Through the team's first six games, Hatlen is batting .667 and has already driven in six runs. Adding to her hot streak, the junior has recorded a hit in all six of the Lutes' games to begin the season.
LUTE NOTES: Kaaren Hatlen isn't the only PLU player to put up solid offensive numbers on the Hawaii trip. Senior outfielder Amanda Goings hit .444 and scored six runs, while senior pitcher/outfielder Stacey Hagensen hit .316 with two homers, six runs scored, five RBI and three steals in three attempts. Sophomore catcher Katie Lowery is off to an excellent start with a .357 batting average and two doubles, and it's great to have a healthy Montessa Califano in the lineup. "Monti" hit .313 with a pair of doubles in Hawaii.
PLU PICKED SECOND: Defending national champion Linfield College is the choice of Northwest Conference softball coaches to win its ninth straight conference championship in 2012, but those same coaches think Pacific Lutheran could give the Wildcats a serious challenge. PLU picked up one first-place vote and a total of 44 points in the annual preseason coaches poll, but Linfield remained the odds-on favorite with seven first-place tallies and 56 points.
SEASON OUTLOOK: With seven position starters and its top two pitchers returning, Pacific Lutheran figures to give Linfield a run for the conference title, in addition to making some noise in Division III national circles. "I have 16 players who could start with most other teams," head coach Erin Van Nostrand said. Finding playing time for such a talented group, she added, is "a good problem. Every year our personnel gets a little better, so we can play the way I want." That means opponents will face a PLU team that will play aggressively on offense in support of solid pitching and defense.
A LOOK AT THE PIONEERS: Through two games in 2012, the Lewis & Clark College Pioneers are winless. Dropping both games at the Northwest Cup last weekend, Lewis & Clark will be looking for its first win in 2012 when it travels to Parkland to take on the Lutes this weekend. Sophomore Caitlin Basilio leads the Pioneer offense early in the year. Basilio is batting .500 and has driven in two runs this season. The Lutes and Pios have met 107 times in the series history dating back to 1981. The series has been all PLU as the Lutes hold a 99-8 advantage. Currently, Pacific Lutheran is on a 44-game win streak over L&C. The Pioneers have not beaten the Lutes since the 2000 season.
SCOUTING THE BOXERS: The Pacific University Boxers are 2-6 through their first eight games this season. Despite six losses, the Boxers have started the season hitting the ball well as Pacific leads the NWC in team batting average (.305), on base percentage (.382), slugging percentage (.446), home runs (6), and RBI (41). Senior Jordan Mittelsdorf heads the offense this season and is batting .350 early in 2012. The catcher leads the NWC in RBI (14) and home runs (3). Even though Pacific has hit well this season, the Boxers are struggling on defense. Through eight games the Boxers have already recorded 21 errors. The Lutes and Boxers have met 109 times in the series history with PLU winning 62 of those.