College softball

Lowell's Fletcher tearing it up for UIC in college softball

2014-04-15T17:00:00Z 2014-04-16T00:59:04Z Lowell's Fletcher tearing it up for UIC in college softballSteve Hanlon steve.hanlon@nwi.com, (219) 933-4198 nwitimes.com

The softball doubleheader is over. The scrapes still burn. The muscle fatigue has its own pain. The tiredness in the head is also there.

She climbs on the bus for the seven-hour ride back to Chicago. Sleep sounds good, well, great. But Jacki Fletcher cannot do that. The Lowell native and UIC senior's day is not over.

It doesn't matter what the clock reads.

"The biggest thing is time management," Fletcher said. "I have to have my priorities straight. I used to hang out with friends. Take a nap. But if I have a test the next day I have to study, even on a bus in the middle of the night.

"I can't relax."

Fletcher owns a 4.0 GPA in Kinesiology in UIC's Honors College. But it's not like the second baseman is doing extra academic study during the game. Fletcher is tearing it up for the Flames.

At the end of March Fletcher was batting .469 and was 16th in the NCAA's national rankings. On March 31, she was named the Horizon League's Female Scholar-Athlete of the Month.

It was the third time Fletcher received this honor.

Flames' coach Michelle Venturella is a legend in the softball world. The South Holland native was a star at Indiana. The Thornwood grad spent six seasons with the USA National Team, earning four gold medals including the 1998 World Championships and the 2000 Sidney Olympics.

Venturella has been nothing but impressed by this former Red Devil.

"Jacki's freshman year she struggled because she wasn't playing as much as she wanted to," Venturella remembered. "She had all the right tools, they just had to be developed. She's a hard worker. She does things the right way.

"Now, we can't keep her off the field. I love Jackie. She will be missed."

The Flames won the HL tourney during Fletcher's freshman season and advanced to the NCAA tournament. UIC is at the top of the league standings now and she wants to get back to the NCAAs.

Postseason success doesn't surprise Lowell coach Pete Iussig. Fletcher led the Devils to the Class 4A state finals her freshman season. She helped the team return two years later.

Her impact on the program is still there. A week ago several Lowell players went up to watch her play at Flames Field in Chicago.

"I talk to the girls all the time, there's not a whole lot separating the players," Iussig said. "Attitude and effort usually is the difference between those at the top and the others. Jacki's effort and attitude far exceeds any kid I've ever coached."

Iussig said Fletcher's attention to detail was almost extreme. She treated every at-bat like it was her last. He told his team this story the other day.

Against Munster, Lowell trailed by a run with two outs in the seventh inning with a runner on second. She fouled off seven pitches after two strikes before lacing a single into center.

"That was Jacki," Iussig said.

If she wasn't busy enough, Fletcher also tutors students at UIC. She likes having friends outside of athletics. She plans to umpire this summer at Lowell's Bluebird youth softball league and give pitching lessons to young girls with big dreams.

She will go to grad school at IUPUI next fall.

"It's really sad, my dad told me the other day there are only five weeks left, it's crazy it goes so fast," Fletcher said. "You dedicate so much of your life to the sport and the person you are is because of the sport. I want to thank all my coaches who've done a great job teaching life lessons.

"I want to stay involved in the game when I'm done. I think it's important to give back."

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