Great defense fuels Salukis’ season turnaround

By Terrance Peacock

 

After a shaky first half start to its season, the Southern Illinois softball team has come around and won nine of its last 16 games, including seven of the last nine in Valley play.

Before the Salukis’ Wednesday doubleheader against Evansville, they were 19-20 overall and 7-6 in the Missouri Valley Cofference with 15 season games left.

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SIU is fourth in the conference, just four games behind first place Creighton (24-11, 10-2 MVC).

With a crucial weekend matchup against the Bluejays approaching, the Salukis will look to continue their season turnaround, which Coach Kerri Blaylock said she credits to her team’s defensive improvements.

“I felt like we were really making some mistakes we shouldn’t make, and we have been very, very sharp the last seven or eight games as far as defense goes,” Blaylock said.

The team’s defensive struggles were evident in a March 23 loss against Northern Iowa.

The Salukis committed four errors in the game, including an error in the bottom of the 11th inning to help the Panthers pull away with a 4-3 victory.

Since the loss, the Salukis have won eight of their last 14 games with defense being the focal point.

Junior infielder Jayna Spivey said new philosophies in practice to be the main factor in the team’s improvement on the field.

“The coach’s decided we were going to change practice a little bit,” Spivey said. “We started doing more game situations defensively instead of just drills, and I think that has really translated over to our defense the last couple of weeks.”

Spivey said with great defense comes better offense, and the Salukis have been able to produce hits in key situations to come out with pivotal wins.

“Like Kerri (Blaylock) keeps saying, our last few wins have stemmed from good pitching and good defense, and it keeps us in it so our offense always has a chance,” Spivey said. “I think that is really what has helped us turn it around.”

Spivey has been a key contributor to the Saluki offense as she has been the team’s most clutch hitter.

The junior has three walkoff hits this season including a walkoff grand slam and a walkoff single Saturday and Sunday against Missouri State.

Spivey is second in the Missouri Valley with 10 home runs, and she leads the Salukis along with being tied for fourth in the conference with 35 runs batted in. Her .317 batting average is second among SIU’s everyday players.

“She is so locked in right now,” Blaylock said. “She feels good. She knows what pitches she needs to hit, and she feels like she can go toe-to-toe with anybody.”

Along with Spivey, sophomore outfielder KalynHarkerhasledthewayforSalukioffensive. The sophomore has a team-best .405 batting average with 17 hits in Valley play and is tied for the MVC’s lead with 15 RBIs. She, along

with Spivey, is on seven-game hitting streaks. Harker was recently moved up to the No. 2 spot in the Saluki batting order, which moved junior infielder Taylor Orsburn down to the No. 5 spot, a change that Blaylock said has

tremendously helped her team. “I like the switch we made putting Kalyn

in the two hole and moving Taylor (Orsburn) to the five,” Blaylock said. “It gives Taylor a chance to swing like she should and it moves Kalyn to a spot where she can use all of her offensive weapons.”

The Salukis are playing their best ball all season, and with three weeks remaining, Blaylock said the season comes down to how bad her team wants to win during the year’s final stretch.

“If we come ready to play, we can hit a lot of people,” Blaylock said. “We just have to believe we can do it and keep going.”

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