A year after winning a College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin batting title, Emily Miller remains a bit of a reluctant leadoff hitter.
“It’s still a little weird,” said Miller, a sophomore center fielder at NCAA Division III North Central College. “I’m not gonna lie.”
But after setting single-season school records with a .486 average, 70 hits and 24 doubles from the top of the batting order as a freshman softball player at NCC, her future was set.
After never batting leadoff before getting to college, the Marian Central graduate from McHenry has welcomed the opportunity to ignite the Cardinals’ offense.
“I’m not a little freshman who’s (scared) of everything,” Miller joked. “I’ve definitely gotten more comfortable and more used to being the first one to see a pitcher.”
Miller is at it again this season, leading the Cardinals with a .431 batting average, 18 runs scored and 28 hits on a team that is off to a 15-5 start.
For the past year, while learning on the job, Miller has taken to the role while using an example from her favorite baseball team.
In 2016 for the Cubs, leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler regularly sparked the offense for a team that won a World Series.
“He always had that ‘you go, we go’ mentality,” Miller said. “That’s always something I think about. Our graduate assistant coach (Carley Dundee) always says that when I’m up in the box.”
Now that teams know about Miller, a second-team National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American last year, she is making things go differently.
She carefully watches a pitcher’s five warmup throws, then sees as many pitches as possible so her teammates get a good view of the opponent on the mound.
“It’s a calming factor,” Miller said. “I always think, ‘I’m not going to hit that first pitch unless it’s really good.’”
Miller also has noticed a lot more outside pitches.
“Going forward, I think we’ll see a lot more of that,” she said. “If they want to pitch around me, I’ll take my walks. If they want to mess up and throw me something I can hit, that’s fine, too.”
During the offseason, Miller spent time trying to handle inside pitches, as well.
“I had a tendency to get jammed,” she said. “Now, I’m not going to hit that pitch every time, but when it comes to two strikes, I’m not going to strike out on it, either.”
Miller knew she was making progress when her first home run of the season – March 22 against Eureka – came on a ball that was inside.
“I’ve been hitting that pitch a lot harder, which is a good confidence booster,” she said. “After the home run, I thought, ‘Oh, I can hit that ball.’ That was nice.”
Bannon’s hot bat: Brandon Bannon, a freshman infielder at D-II University of Illinois Springfield, posted a six-RBI game with his first career home run Tuesday in a 17-3 victory against Lewis.
Bannon (Richmond-Burton) was 3 for 3 in the game with three runs scored.
He raised his season batting average to .388, which ranks 10th in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
For the season, he has six doubles and 24 RBIs for the Prairie Stars (21-11-1). In the past five games, he has produced multiple hits four times.
Michaelson leads WLC: Freshman James Michaelson of D-III Wisconsin Lutheran was named the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference men’s golfer of the week Tuesday.
The Prairie Ridge grad set a school record with a 4-under-par round of 68 Sunday at Washington County Golf Course in Hartford, Wisconsin. Michaelson’s team-best round helped the Warriors beat Carthage, 294-304, in a dual meet. The 294 team total also was a school record.
All-West wonder: McHenry West grad Becca Dabrowski, a senior water polo player at Monmouth College in western Illinois, has been named the All-West Conference Most Valuable Player and a first-team selection in a vote by Collegiate Water Polo Association coaches.
Dabrowski is the team’s all-time leading goal scorer (235) and the first player to surpass 200 career goals. She also holds Monmouth career records in assists (47) and steals (160). This season, she has 84 goals, 41 steals and 13 assists.
Record vault at Benedictine: Marian Central grad Eve Meintz opened the outdoor track and field season at D-III Benedictine University with a memorable performance.
Meintz, a freshman from Huntley, set the school record with a winning pole vault effort of 11 feet, 5 3/4 inches at the team’s own invitational meet in Lisle.
Augie honors Orange: Jacobs grad Chrishawn Orange, a senior guard at D-III Augustana College, was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year this week.
Orange helped the Vikings (26-4) to their fifth consecutive College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin men’s basketball title while leading the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.11). He is one of only three players in school history to earn All-CCIW first team three times.
Orange set school records for games played (125) and wins played in (104). He played in the most wins among CCIW players since Wheaton’s Don Anderson (106) from 1956 to '59.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.