Daily Egyptian

Freshman battles back from injury, set to make first start

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

SIU softball freshman pitcher Nicole Doyle is set to make her first collegiate start Saturday against Hartford after being out of commission for the last seven-plus months.

Doyle tore the ACL in her left knee after landing weird while pitching on July 22, before even arriving at SIU. She had surgery to repair the torn ACL on July 31 and was rehabbing three days later.

The Aurora, Ohio native debuted in relief of sophomore starting pitcher Savanna Dover in a 10-2 loss to Butler on March 5. She entered the game with runners on second and third and allowed two earned runs in the inning.

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Junior catcher Jessa Thomas – who caught Doyle’s first collegiate innings – said the performance showed the type of character Doyle has.

Thomas said coach Kerri Blaylock came out and asked Doyle if she needed help and Doyle said she needed to fight through it.

“It showed that she’s going to be a good competitor to have on the mound,” Thomas said. “She likes to go right at hitters … I know the other pitchers do too, but I sometimes see it more in her.”

Doyle finished the game with 3.1 innings pitched allowing five runs on five hits while walking six – she struck out three and her post game ERA was 10.50.

She said her first appearance was nerve-racking, but she was excited to get back in the circle. Although she’s not past the nerves yet, she said she is getting more comfortable.

“Confidence is something that comes with experience,” she said. “Just as you physically exercise, you have to exercise your brain in game situations.”

Blaylock – who is doing most of the work with pitchers this season – said when Doyle called her after the injury, the pitcher was devastated, but Blaylock told her to keep pushing.

“[Doyle] couldn’t see the end of the line,” she said. “I told her, ‘I believe and trust in you … I believe in who you are as a pitcher and as a competitor. We’re going to rehab the heck out of you and get you back.’”

Doyle said the first thing she focused on during rehab was learning to walk properly again, because her gait was effected by the injury. She then focused on rebuilding smaller muscles surrounding the knee.

The freshman said regaining strength was a long process, but the battle is having the confidence to trust the leg that was injured.

”That’s where all my weight goes,” she said. “After I [pitched] a few times, I knew I was OK.”

While she was out, the only pitching she could do was working on spins to make her pitches move more.

Doyle said she has always been a movement pitcher instead of a power thrower.

“Some pitchers that only throw hard, [hitters] can time you up,” she said. “Moving the ball around is important to keep hitters on their toes.”

Doyle is no stranger to injury. During high school she played softball and soccer and in July of 2011 she suffered pars defect, bilateral stress fractures to her L5 and L4 vertebrae. She then re-fractured the L5 during her junior softball season in May 2014.

Doyle said she only pitched a few innings during her senior season and as she was starting to pitch more during summer ball, she tore her ACL. She has stayed positive through the rehabilitation process though, noting that everything happens for a reason.

“Quitting has never really been an option for me,” she said. “I’ve been surrounded by good people my entire life … I have a great support system.”

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

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