Softball team gears up for a competitive opening weekend

For its season opener Saturday, the SIU softball team will step away from Charlotte West Stadium and go to Woodstock, Ga., to compete in the Kennesaw State University Classic.

During the 2009 season, the Salukis’ most recent appearance in the invitational, they went undefeated in the KSU Classic and placed first in the tournament with a 5-0 record, according to the Saluki Athletics’ website.

The Salukis will return Saturday from a 36-17 record in 2011. The team lost the last game of the 2011 season to the Drake University Bulldogs in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

Head coach Kerri Blaylock said in order for the Salukis to live up to their projected third-place MVC finish, they look to enter their first matchup focused and to play together as a unit.

Freshman infielder Kara Kimball and sophomore infielder Jayna Spivey field ground balls Tuesday during practice at Charlotte West Stadium. The Saluki women’s softball team starts its season on the road as it travels to Woodstock, Ga., for the Kansas University Classic this weekend. Chris Zoeller | Daily Egyptian

Blaylock said the players’ pre-game routine has kept them balanced, and they don’t feel pressure before tournaments. She said before every away tournament, the team arrives at the hotel, goes to bed, wakes up, eats breakfast and goes out to compete.

“We’re really used to it, because normally our first three or four weekends have to be on the road,” Blaylock said. “Really, the freshmen are the only ones that may not be used to it.”

With lots of team preparation and travel plans ahead, Blaylock said she has yet to release starting positions and a starting pitcher. She said this doesn’t put pressure on the players, because if they’ve done their preparation and practiced hard, then it’s possible to put a player at any position when needed.

“I usually make a call on the starts the night before,” Blaylock said. “What I’ll normally do is tell the two who are starting the games on Saturday, and then there will be one that’ll be on relief.”

The Salukis will play two games Saturday, first against University of Miami-Ohio and second against Kennesaw State. SIU will take on Austin Peay and Mercer University on Sunday.

Blaylock said the most important key for all games is to come with a massive offensive game.

“We have to come out strong offensively,” Blaylock said. “We need to set the tone on the mound. We need to throw strikes, we need to get ahead of hitters, and hopefully, our defense is going to sure up. It’s been looking good in practice, and we just hope to continue that.”

Assistant head coach Jen Sewell said Blaylock has done a great job putting together pregame practice plans that show the team what it’s up against offensively and defensively. She said it’s important for the team to remember to concentrate on pitching the ball and then focus on defense.

“We have gone back to the defensive fundamentals, and I think it’s going to show in games,” Sewell said. “The core of (the defensive program) is what Kerri built it on, and that’s pitching.”

While Blaylock and Sewell have prepared the team physically for competition, senior shortstop and co-captain Haley Gorman said she and her teammates are formulating the mental side of rivalry.

“We’re just going in it (competition) the same way we would go into any tournament — ready to come out and play anybody,” Gorman said.

Entering her fourth season as a Saluki, Gorman said nervousness doesn’t play a part for this weekend. She said she is excited for the start of the 2012 season and ultimately winning a championship.

“I’m ready, and I think we’ve got a really great shot this year,” Gorman said.

The Salukis will batter up at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Bobbie Bailey Athletic Complex.


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