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She wants to hit the ball: Gator senior Erika Howell reaches 100-hit milestone


Gator senior second baseman Erika Howell throws to first for the out in the third inning of the Gators’ 21-4 victory over the West Marshall Fusion back on May 15 in Greenbush. Gator Head Softball Coach Kent Christian explained how Howell has kept up the Gators’ strong tradition of play at this position. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Gator senior Erika Howell makes contact with this pitch and reaches first base on an error during the first inning of the Gators’ 21-4 victory over the West Marshall Fusion in the first round of the Gator Classic in Greenbush on May 15. Howell reached the 100-hit milestone back on May 7, becoming the tenth player in program history to reach this milestone. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Going into the Gator Softball team’s May 7 road game versus the Roseau Rams, Gator and Badger senior Erika Howell knew she was close to the 100-hit milestone, but didn’t know how close.

“(Gator Head Coach Kent) Christian had told me that I was close and he asked me if I wanted to know the exact number,” Howell said. “And I said, ‘No, I don’t want to have to worry about it.’”

She would find out soon enough. On her second hit of the game, Howell learned she had reached the milestone, going two for four at the plate in a game the Gators eventually won 10-0.

Howell and Gator Head Coach Kent Christian talked about her reaching this milestone, the effort and time she has put into the sport, her play at the plate and in the field at second base, what she brings on and off the field as a leader, what she enjoys most about playing the game and being part of the Gator Softball program, and the continuing of her softball career at Mayville State.

The moment she reached the milestone was different, what she described as awkward.

“Nobody knew what was going on,” Howell said about the moment she reached the milestone. “… I just kind of stood there and everybody was clapping. And even some of my teammates were a little confused, but I kind of figured what was going on.”

After losing her entire junior season to the COVID-19 pandemic, Howell became the tenth player in Gator program history to reach the 100-hit milestone. Reaching this milestone, Coach Christian explained, shows that Howell is more than just an “outstanding player”

“But more importantly, (she is) a better person,” Coach Christian said. “(She) definitely deserves it. She’s worked really, really hard for it.”

Howell began playing softball at the 8U summer level at the age of seven, and did play t-ball before that. She saw some varsity playing time as an eighth grader, but began seeing regular time at this level during her freshman season.

A three-sport Gator student-athlete, participating in volleyball and basketball as well, Howell talked about the time she has invested to the sport of softball outside the regular season. She highlighted the importance of participating in a summer softball season.

After not having a spring season last year, the Gator softball team got over 30 games in during the following summer and fall seasons. She also mentioned how she has gone to some softball camps during the fall and winter seasons. She also did a little extra hitting this past winter.

“Some(times) this winter, I would just go out and hit,” Howell said. “I had a net from last spring that Christian gave me (to borrow) and a tee.”

Speaking of her bat, both Howell and Christian talked about her mindset at the plate and what has allowed her to find the success she has found there. Coach Christian pointed to her ability to just make contact— putting the ball in play and limiting the strikeouts.

This season, Howell currently is batting .364 and has a .442 on-base percentage. She also has not struck out yet this season— the only Gator player having appeared in at least seven games to do this.

“When she gets out, it’s because she gets herself out,” Coach Christian said. “She wants to hit so bad that if she gets up in the count, like 3-1, she might chase a pitch because she wants to hit.”

Coach Christian said Howell was kind of doing this a couple weeks ago and that they had talked about it. He added how she has gotten better about not chasing pitches since.

Asked what her mindset is at the plate, Howell gave a similar answer to Christian.

“I want to hit the ball, sometimes a little too badly,” Howell said. “Sometimes it gets me in trouble.”

She proceeded to then mention a recent 3-1 count she faced during her team’s Gator Classic Championship victory over Red Lake Falls on May 15.

“It was a really high pitch and I swung at it and hit it right back at the pitcher. He (Christian) was not happy,” Howell said with a laugh.

Continuing to explain what has made Howell so successful, Coach Christian pointed to her strong hand-eye coordination and mental approach, and her belief that she can hit the ball and play second base.

As for her play at second base, Coach Christian explained how she has kept up the Gators’ strong tradition at this position. This season, she has committed just three errors.

“This has just been a spot where we’ve been fortunate to always have good players, and she’s just kind of followed in the footsteps,” Coach Christian said. “… It’s a hard position to play because of having to cover first on bunts and that short distance. So, she’s done a really good job.”

Regardless of how this season ends, once it is over, Howell will be taking her softball talents to the Mayville State Comets Softball program (N.D.).

“I decided to do it (play at Mayville) because I love softball,” Howell said. “I just wanted to continue playing it and just stay in shape.”

Coach Christian said the Comets will be pleasantly surprised by what they get from Howell.

“They’re going to get a person that’s going to be a great teammate,” Coach Christian said, “is going to play good softball for them and hopefully play the right way.”

To see the complete story, read the May 26 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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