North Central’s experienced softball team getting it done

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North Central pitcher Andrea Starr.


With a roster loaded with veterans from an NCAA Division III super regional team last year and a regional qualifier in 2013, North Central was looking for a strong softball season in 2015.

So far, the Cardinals have been even better than advertised, ranked No. 10 in Division III by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. North Central is 22-1, including 6-0 in the CCIW, after a 13-1, 10-2 sweep of Carthage on Tuesday, and has a doubleheader Thursday at Wheaton (14-11, 4-0).

“A little bit more than half the squad was in the super regionals last year and the regionals the year before, so they have some experience competing in those tough situations against good teams,” said coach Jim Kulawiak, who has eight CCIW titles and 11 NCAA appearances in his 27 seasons. “That’s definitely been beneficial for them. We’ve had some pretty good play from a few freshmen that has helped us out as well. It’s been a pretty balanced approach all the way around, with the pitchers, the defense and the hitting.”

One focal point is junior pitcher Andrea Starr, who has 11 starts in 18 appearances and is 12-1 with five saves and a 1.41 ERA. Starr also is hitting .429 and has three home runs and a .735 slugging percentage, making her a key cog in an offense that has averaged nearly nine runs a game.

“Andrea has a good drive about her, but she’s an even-keel person,” Kulawiak said. “She has a good work ethic, is very, very competitive, an excellent student and is very coachable. I think all those ingredients are a very big part of her makeup.”

The Cardinals offense is deep, with seniors Kiersten Tinkoff (.474, 28 RBI) at first, Kayla Antle (.397, 31 runs) at third, Carly Trenahaile (.414) in the outfield and Cecie Portillo (.400) at shortstop. Freshman second baseman Corinne Rowe has come through in a big way, hitting .385 and leading the team with six home runs and 36 RBI.

“Tinkoff has had two very fine years,” Kulawiak said. “She’s finally healthy. The last two years she’s had some issues with surgery and getting hit in the head, but she’s having a great year for us. She and the other captain, Kayla Antle, I think their play at the corners is crucial. Kayla leads off and Tinkoff hits third, and they’re a big part of it.”

300th K FOR Panayotovich

Senior right-hander Adam Panayotovich notched the 300th strikeout of his career Tuesday as St. Francis of Joliet topped Robert Morris 9-1 in the first game of a doubleheader in Joliet. Panayotovich, an all-CCAC selection in each of his first three years with the Saints, is 9-1 with a 1.07 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 75 ⅔ innings.

Robert Morris won the second game 12-2. The Eagles (23-15, 13-7) are second to Judson in the CCAC North Division, while St. Francis (18-21, 14-6) leads the South.

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