SIU’s young softball pitchers ready for season


By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

When the Saluki softball team starts its season Friday, it will do so with the Missouri Valley Conference’s youngest pitching rotation.

Two freshmen, Brianna Jones and Nicole Doyle, join sophomore Savanna Dover in a staff that coach Kerri Blaylock said is an improvement from last season’s rotation.

“We have three to four kids that can really throw the ball, and that’s what we’re banking on,” she said.


Evansville and Loyola also have two freshmen pitchers on the roster, but the Purple Aces also have a junior and senior while the Ramblers have a sophomore and senior.

Blaylock said the new pitchers have an advantage because no one has seen them play.

Jones, a graduate of Coffee County High School in Manchester, Tenn., finished top five in the state with her team twice and finished third in the nation with 372 strikeouts in the 2014 season.

She said playing in the fall helped ease the transition to her first collegiate season.

“It was different, people are going to hit me, and I have to realize that,” Jones said. “It also helped Kerri figure out who I am as a player.”

Jones said nerves don’t affect her when she’s on the mind, but her fellow freshman isn’t so calm.

Doyle said nerves will factor in when she pitches because she is rehabbing a torn ACL.


“I’m pretty strong, I’ve been doing rehab since I’ve been down here,” Doyle said. “It’s a comfort thing. It’s more mental than physical right now.”

Doyle said travel summer softball helped prepare her for college more than high school did. She was three-time All-Conference and two-time conference most valuable player at Aurora High School in Ohio.

As for the sophomore, Blaylock said Dover has grown since last season and has had “night and day” changes in her pitching.

“Fall ball, for Savanna, got her at a level where she’s throwing with such confidence that she feels like last spring didn’t happen,” she said.

Dover allowed 90 walks while striking out 42 batters last season but averaged about a walk-and-a-half per game during the fall scrimmages. She said that is the ideal range, as throwing too many strikes makes a pitcher become predictable.

The Canton, Ga., native threw 64.2 innings last season, which was second on the team. Her 5.09 ERA was also second on the team, and she compiled a 1-5 record. Dover appeared in 20 games, including eight starts. Both were third on the team.

With Dover’s confidence boost and the added freshmen depth, Blaylock said this year’s staff could have a different rotation every weekend.

“It could be a match-up thing; it could be who is on and who is feeling it that weekend,” she said. “We could throw all three of them every weekend.”

Last season, former pitcher Katie Bertelsen threw 62 percent, or 196.2, of the team’s 314.1 innings. In a typical three-game weekend series last season, Bertelsen would pitch the first and third game with Dover or junior Shaye Harre taking the middle game.

Blaylock said she believes all three of her pitchers could be No. 1 on other teams.

The Salukis start the season at 11 a.m. Friday against University of Tennessee at Martin at the Lion Classic in Hammond, La.

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