Opinion: For SIU softball to keep going, Patterson must get going

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

Despite the 17-8 start to the season, and the best nonconference start to the season since 2008-09, one major element has been missing for SIU softball this season — junior center fielder Merri Anne Patterson’s hot bat from last season.

While the team is swinging a hot stick with a combined .284 batting average, Patterson has lagged behind with a .209 average, which is 10th on the team.

The Salukis need Patterson to trade the strikeouts for hits if they’re going to make a run in the Missouri Valley Conference.

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Patterson leads the team with 21 strikeouts in 25 games, nearing her 22 strikeouts in 47 games last year. She’s tied for sixth on the team with senior designated player Caylee Cook with 14 hits.

The Lynnville, Tenn., native has more multiple strikeout games, six, than multiple hit games, two, and has batted below .200 for 15 of the first 25 games of the season.

A slow start to the season is nothing new for the first-year center fielder. She batted between .000 and .227 through the first 17 appearances in her freshman season before finishing the last nine games batting between .233 and .295.

Then she burst onto the scene her sophomore season, batting at or above .300 for 17 of the final 36 games of the season.

Patterson said the reason behind her slow starts has been her lack of live-pitching workouts during the offseason, leaving her confined to a batting cage.

“That takes a toll on you,” she said March 2. “You’re feeling good after an indoor workout, but in reality some of those [hits] weren’t that great.”

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Another inconsistency this season has been Patterson’s spot in the batting order, but that’s nothing new. She’s batted in five different spots this season compared to seven last year.

She’s spent most of her games in the No. 7 spot in the lineup, and the team is 11-4 when she’s batting there.

While coach Kerri Blaylock said earlier this month that she likes having Patterson anywhere in the bottom half of the order, a more consistent spot may lead to a more consistent average.

If Patterson can get back to her old ways, she could provide some stability to the bottom-half of the order. This would protect the hot bats of junior first baseman Shaye Harre and sophomore catcher/third baseman Sydney Jones who are batting .426 and .333, respectively.

Patterson said she is used a slow start and is more focused on her play in conference as opposed to the nonconference schedule.

SIU opened conference play against Loyola last weekend with a 2-0 sweep of the team picked to finish ninth in the preseason MVC poll. The Salukis were picked to finish seventh.

While the team combined for nine runs on 18 hits, Patterson again struggled at the plate going 0-5 with one RBI.

Once the team gets into the thick of the conference schedule, Patterson’s bat will be needed. The Valley had seven of 10 teams finish with a winning record in the Valley last season and one finish .500.

Patterson’s bat was crucial last season in an early match-up with conference favorite Wichita State. The then-sophomore hit walk-off home runs in two of the games during a weekend sweep of the Shockers at Charlotte West Stadium.

Blaylock said getting Patterson going offensively is essential to the team’s success.

“She’s a kid that you want to get going,” she said earlier this month. “She’s a gamer, a competitor.”

Breaking the slump has not been for a lack of trying. Patterson said she and associate head coach Jen Sewell — who works primarily with hitting — have tried changing everything in the junior’s swing, eventually moving her up in the box and emphasizing getting her front foot down early.

“When my foot is down, [Sewell] can tell I’m receiving pitches all the way to the catcher and reading them as well as anyone on the team,” she said. “Right now, I’m early … I’m getting outside pitches and I’m not recognizing them.”

We’ve seen the slow start before, but with Northern Iowa currently at 22-7, 2-1 in conference and preseason favorites Wichita State and Missouri State lying in wait, the conference isn’t going to get any easier this season.

In a season where SIU softball is on pace for 30-plus wins and possible postseason success, Patterson and her bat need to help lead the Salukis through it.

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3333

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