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Returning MVPs lead softball team

March 23, 2007

The Falcons softball team has gotten off to a 11-3 record in 2007 thanks in large part to the teams returning co-MVPs from last year, pitcher Brittany Rathbun and third baseman Emily Howlett.

Rathbun had to overcome a lot just to be able to pitch this season having surgery to correct a condition known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) in July. TOS is a condition caused by overusing specific arm movements, which cause a pinching off of nerves and blood vessels in the neck and shoulder region.

“She had a hard time finishing last year,” Falcons head coach Faye Perkins said.

Rathbun led NCAA Division III last season with nine saves.

After having surgery to correct that problem, Rathbun was then injured in an ATV accident.

“It was really hard for me to focus on the future [following the accident],” Rathbun said. “I couldn’t even eat by myself.”

Rathbun worked hard with the UW-River Falls training staff to rehab just to be able to play this spring. She credited head trainer Gary Eloranta, commonly known as Stump, for her recovery.

“It’s close to a miracle that she’s pitching,” Perkins said.

Rathbun’s record this season stands at 6-2, with a 1.37 ERA through 30 and two-thirds innings pitched.

One of the reasons for her success is that her and fellow pitcher Ashley Bertrand, who has a 0.59 ERA in almost 50 innings, complement each other’s styles so well.
Rathbun is a “junk-ball pitcher” Perkins said. And her specialty is the drop-ball, while Bertrand is a power pitcher who likes to stay up in the zone and overpower hitters.

“It’s two completely different looks for the batter,” Rathbun said. “It’s difficult for batters to overcome.”

Because of Rathbun’s reliance on the drop-ball, which, much like an effective sinker in baseball, induces a lot of groundballs; she also counts on another teammate, third baseman Emily Howlett.

“She’s amazing,” Rathbun said. “Her D is awesome and her offense is better.”

Howlett was a newcomer to UWRF in 2006. She started her collegiate playing career at Northern State in South Dakota, where she led the Wolves with a .357 average in 41 starts and played catcher.

“Very fortunately for us she transferred [due to a change in her major],” Perkins said.

Howlett said she was “very nervous” transferring last year. Besides transferring and having to adjust to a new school, she had to find her niche on a new team, and go through a position change.

“It was amazing how the team just accepted me,” she said. “They made it a really easy transition.”

The position change came about because of injuries to her back.

“Faye [Perkins] tried me at third base and it kind of stuck,” Howlett said. “Being a catcher, I got to see what everyone else was doing so I kind of had an idea going into it.”

Howlett was not only co-MVP in 2006, but was also named the team’s best defensive player.

Howlett is more than just a defensive standout though. Through 14 games she led the Falcons in multiple batting categories including a .523 batting average, eight doubles and 18 runs scored; she is also tied for the team lead with 14 RBI.

Both Howlett and Perkins attribute her hot start to feeling more settled in.

“I think it’s mostly that I’m finally comfortable,” Howlett said. “When I step into the box I know my team’s behind me ... “

There’s no added pressure being viewed as a team leader this season, Howlett said.

She said she also relishes in-game pressure situations.

“I think I put more pressure on myself than anyone,” she said. “I like to be the person in the box when there’s two outs.”

Both Rathbun and Howlett are considered on-the-field leaders for the Falcons, but Rathbun’s leadership skills transcend beyond the diamond.

“She’s kind of taken over as one of our main leaders,” Howlett said of Rathbun. “Anybody can go to her for support, encouragement, just about anything.”

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