A familiar face will be the first to the plate in the Saluki lineup.
Junior center fielder Kalyn Harker is hitting the ball well as of late, so well Coach Kerri Blaylock moved her to the top of the order.
Harker said being a leadoff hitter comes naturally to her.
“I used to hit first in high school and in travel ball,” she said. “I’m familiar with the position and I like it. I feel comfortable in it, I’m glad that she put me there and we’re able to be successful that way.”
Harker earned the honor of being the Salukis’ first hitter because of her performance in the last nine games. Harker was hitting .255 with six RBIs before the March 23 matchup against Drake University. Harker went 2-3 with two RBIs and a triple against the Bulldogs.
Her average has ballooned to .318, second best on the team. She has also more than doubled her RBI total from six to 16.
In the games since March 23, Harker has hit .424 with nine RBIs. Blaylock said when Harker hits leadoff, the team is stronger throughout the order.
“It puts everybody in their natural spot,” she said. “I think Kalyn is a natural leadoff and Michelle [Glenn] is that natural two-hole hitter, and then you get Taylor Orsburn into a RBI spot, which she should be. It just kind of lets things flow the way you want it to.”
Orsburn, a senior, previously held the leadoff role for the Salukis and had moderate success. Orsburn is hitting .246 on the season with 17 RBIs. With Harker stepping in, Orsburn could slide down in the lineup to the fifth spot.
Blaylock said Orsburn is not a typical leadoff hitter and Orsburn agrees.
“I’ve always been down in the lineup, and I feel more comfortable down there,” Orsburn said. “Leading off kind of adds pressure. I think anywhere that you feel more comfortable is the best.”
The Salukis saw immediate success with their new lineup in the game against Murray State University April 1. Harker was 3-4 with three RBIs and Orsburn was 1-3 with four RBIs. Orsburn’s lone hit was a grand slam over the center-field wall.
This will not be Harker’s first time hitting at the top of the order as a Saluki. Last season, Harker hit leadoff in most of SIU’s games while hitting .288 for the season.
Harker’s 2013 season was cut short when she dove for a ball in practice and landed awkwardly, fracturing her pinky finger and fourth metacarpal in her left hand.
Blaylock said she thinks Harker was one of the best players in the Missouri Valley Conference before the injury.
“She was one of the best outfielders in conference, there is no doubt. She broke her hand at a very inopportune time for us and her,” she said. “She’s one of those athletes that can hit, run and throw. She’s a very, very good athlete.”
Blaylock said her speed makes her an even more ideal choice to hit first in the batting order. Harker has 28 stolen bases in her career and has only been caught stealing five times.
“Her and Michelle Glenn both can create havoc at the top of the order,” Blaylock said. “But the thing about [Harker] is she’s sneaky. She’s got power too, so she can do things both ways.”
The Salukis will get another chance to show off their lineup tonight when the Salukis take on the Southeastern Missouri State University Redhawks at Charlotte West Stadium at 5 p.m.
Tony McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com, @tonymcdanielDE or at 536-3311 ext. 282