With two home runs and 19 scored runs in two games, the Saluki softball team’s offense looks very sharp.
Although the team lost its top two hitters from last season — Mallory Duran-Sellers (.363 average) and Haley Gorman (.324) — coach Kerri Blaylock said the 2012 team’s talent and depth should push it toward the top of the Missouri Valley Conference when the season begins in the spring.
SIU won its first two games of the fall season Sunday with a 15-0 win against John A. Logan College and a 4-3 win against Southeast Missouri State University. The Salukis will host SIU-Edwardsville and Lake Land College again Sunday at Charlotte West Stadium. The four fall games the team hosts will not count toward conference standing, but allow players to get game-time experience after months of inactivity.
Blaylock said “fall ball” allows her to try different line-ups.
“We will play nine different lineups in the fall,” she said. “We have so much depth that we would like to give everyone an opportunity to play.”
Blaylock said while the team’s younger players must contribute, the upperclassmen must provide leadership and consistency. In the team’s first action of the season against JALC, SIU junior infielder Kelsea Ashton went three-for-three with five RBIs, and senior outfielder Michelle Bradley hit a first-inning three-run home run.
“We have a good vibe going on right now,” Bradley said. “For the first time, I feel like we are all sisters. From the players to the coaches and other staff … we adore each other.”
Bradley said working with assistant coach Jen Sewell has improved her batting and offensive abilities.
“I took some things Jen told me I was doing wrong in my at-bats, and it’s really helping improve my game,” she said.
Blaylock said Bradley is typically a standout defensive player, but the team could use offensive production from her as well.
Under Sewell’s direction, the Salukis had the second highest batting average in the MVC (.324) during the 2011 season. Her work with the team has increased its patience in the batter’s box, as the Salukis drew the most walks and had the least amount of strikeouts in the conference. In 2010, Blaylock and Sewell helped earn the MVC coaching staff of the year.
While the coach expects a much-improved offense, pitching and defense must remain the team’s staples, Blaylock said.
Sophomores Katie Bertelsen and Alyssa Wunderlich pitched three innings in the game against JALC. They notched three strikeouts and allowed no earned runs between them. Against Southeast Missouri State, senior pitcher Brittney Lang threw a complete game, struck out six batters and walked two.
“The team is a little different this year,” Lang said. “We’re all much more comfortable, and I’m not getting so amped up when I’m on the mound. It’s going to be an exciting year.”
The one mistake Lang made was not really her fault, Blaylock said. SEMO’s shortstop Kaitlin Zink hit a two-run home run off Lang in the second inning.
“The home run Brittney allowed was more my fault than hers. I call most of the pitches and that was just a bad pitch call,” she said.
The Salukis finished third in the MVC last year and second in the conference tournament for the second year in a row. Lang said the team’s accomplishments over the last few years do not mean the team will be successful this year.
“We have done some big things around here recently, but that doesn’t mean we will automatically have success this year,” she said. “We have to take it one day at a time.”