ST. CHARLES – Abby Howlett set the bar awfully high for herself last year.
As a sophomore, Howlett was a dynamo on offense, batting .510 while driving in 39 runs en route to an offseason college commitment to Northern Illinois.
Knowing how punishing she can be on opposing pitchers, Howlett hasn’t been entirely satisfied with the first half of her junior season. A few more days like Friday might change that outlook for Howlett, who drove in three of North’s runs in a 6-0, Upstate Eight Conference River Division win over Batavia.
“I’ve been struggling a little this season but I’m getting more back to driving the ball to the left side,” Howlett said. “And I’ve been doing that my whole softball career.”
The left-handed hitting first baseman went the other way with authority with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth, slashing a shot the wall for a long single that scored two runs. She added an RBI groundout as North scored twice in the bottom of the sixth to claim the win.
Howlett, who moved from fifth in the order last season to cleanup this year, said she’s feeling more confident offensively in recent games.
“Just a nice hitting lesson with my hitting coach [Bill Morrow],” Howlett said. “Making sure that I’m not dropping my elbow and rolling over.”
North coach Tom Poulin said Howlett is acclimating to being more of a focal point for opponents this spring.
“I think people are being a lot more careful with her for multiple reasons,” Poulin said. “What she did last year, and even if you haven’t even scouted us, you’re not going to give the [No.] 4 hitter anything to hit until you have to. I think she was probably swinging at some balls out of the zone early in the year. But we don’t worry about Abby. She’s one of the ones we’re not too worried about.”
Another of those girls is Northwestern-bound senior Sabrina Rabin, who handcuffed a Tri-Cities rival for the second time this week.
After throwing a three-hitter in North’s 5-1 win Tuesday against St. Charles East, Rabin tossed a two-hitter against Batavia (6-12, 4-8 UEC River), notching a shutout this time.
Rabin (8-5) is pitching some of her best ball of the season.
“She’s pitched well all year – I think we haven’t helped her out at crucial times,” Poulin said. “We’ve played well defensively but then at crucial times, with two outs and runners in scoring position, we might kick one or throw it away. She’s been kind of a hard-luck loser in a lot of her losses but she just stays positive and continues to believe in everybody. … She’s as good as it gets in my book as far as a teammate goes and as far as a player.”
Rabin found trouble in the top of the fourth as an infield single by Toni Galas, a hit batter and a walk loaded the bags for Batavia with one out. But Rabin fanned Jorie Nichol and Tara Zufan to preserve a 1-0 lead for North (13-6, 9-2 UEC River).
Bulldogs coach Lupe Castellanos thought his batters were overly anxious.
“I think in that situation you’ve got to put the pressure on them because really when you get the bases loaded like that, the pressure’s on the defense,” Castellanos said. “I think we try to do too much, try to overswing sometimes and think we’ve got to hit a home run, and then we end up with not having such a good at-bat. At that point, we’ve just got to try to put the ball in play and put the pressure on the defense and make them make the play.”
Alex Millett, Erin Nemetz, Jordyn Wolfe and Mickey Goetz had two hits each for North against Bulldogs off-speed specialist Alyssa Klemm.
Castellanos said he found out earlier Friday that Batavia’s No. 1 pitcher, Rachael Lovestrand, would be unavailable for the game as she was to be evaluated for a possible concussion.
Klemm and Nicole Peercy figure to be busy in the circle for the Bulldogs today as they participate in a multigame tournament in Marengo.