The Saluki softball team is coming off such a good offensive season that their prolific offense has started to get noticed throughout college soft- ball. “The word is out on us, people know we can hit,” hitting coach Jen Sewell said. “We used to get a lot of number two and number three pitchers thrown against us and now we’re getting everybody’s best game.”
The Salukis posted a .290 batting average last season. SIU hit a combined 33 homeruns, drove in 267 runs and drew 228 walks. Five Salukis batted .300 or better for the season.
The Salukis rode their hot bats all the way to a 36-20 record and a second place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Sewell said, through the years, the Salukis have been known as a team with great pitch- ing and defense, but SIU no longer is in the background as an offensive team.
She said with higher offensive expectations comes opponents’ No. 1 pitchers, and the team has to be aware of that.
“The players have to be ok with the fact that they may struggle the first time through the lineup and then have the second, third and fourth at bat be key for us,” Sewell said.
Sophomore outfielder Meredith Wilson already has found a rhythm this season of- fensively.
The second-team All-MVC selection is bat- ting .500 on the season and hit a grand slam in Saturday’s win over Fordham University.
Wilson said her main focus when she is in the batter’s box is to reach every pitch thrown to her.
“Sometimes I get thrown a lot inside and then I struggle hitting outside and sometimes I’m getting thrown all outside and then I struggle hitting inside,” Wilson said. “I’m always trying to focus on being able to reach every pitch and the off-speeds as well.”
This is Wilson’s second year with the Salukis and she said there is no comparison between
college and high school pitching. “In high school I would just go to the plate
and be like ‘OK, hit the first strike,’ but in college you have to go up to the plate with a plan,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s plan is working, as she was third on the team last season with a .319 batting average as a freshman.
Junior catcher Allie VadeBoncouer was fourth on the team with a .317 batting aver- age. She was also a first-team All-Conference selection as well as making the MVC All- Tournament Team.
VadeBoncouer had a breakout season for the Salukis, tying the SIU record with an MVC-leading 51 RBIs, which is tied for eighth in MVC history. She also drew 28 free bases on hit-by-pitches, which led the nation.
The preseason All-Conference selection started all 56 games for the Salukis last season at catcher, and even though she had a fantastic year at the plate. She said one thing she can improve is not letting a bad day offensively affect her play defensively.
“If I’m not having a good day at the plate it’s on my mind when I’m on defense,” she said. “What I have tried to improve on is not letting my offensive struggles take control over my defense.”
The Salukis are 15 players deep with great hitters, Sewell said, so the coaching staff bases
their lineup decisions on each player’s produc- tion in practice week-to-week.
“They have to work throughout all of our practices to prove to coach (Kerri) Blaylock that they deserve to be in the lineup, but we still try to get players as many at bats as pos- sible,” Sewell said.
Blaylock said the coaching staff would use multiple lineups for the near future, or at least until conference season approaches.
“We’re trying to get as many people at bats and let as many people see live pitching as they can,” she said. “Then I would say as the conference season starts to roll around, we might settle into more of a strict lineup.”
Blaylock said that although last season’s offensive effort was exceptional, it is still too early to tell where this year’s team will end up, but she said this year’s team has what it takes to bypass last season’s offensive statistics.
“This team has the capability of scoring a ton of runs,” Blaylock said. “We also have a great mix of speed and power, so I would ven- ture to say that we wait a month or so and let us get into the conference season, and I think it would probably start to define where we are offensively.”