Daily Egyptian

Young outfielders making big contributions to Saluki softball

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

Although they’ve donned the Saluki softball uniform for just eight games, two new members of the pack have produced in big ways.

Freshmen Eyrika Brandenburg and Hanna Porter have already made themselves at home in the outfield, leading the team in hits and home runs, respectively.

Both women said they didn’t expect to be contributing this early in their collegiate careers.

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“I knew I would get chances in the field and at the plate,” Brandenburg said. “But it took a lot of stepping up to fill the positions needed.”

Coach Kerri Blaylock was not as surprised.

Before the season, she said the entire team would have to contribute, and she knew the freshmen could do so. With Meredith Wilson and Missouri Valley Conference batting champ Kalyn Harker graduating, there were two spots in the outfield for the taking.

“I knew these girls were all ready when I signed them,” Blaylock said. “It just goes to show the type of class I brought in — these were in-demand girls.”

Their demand appears to be warranted early this season.

Of women to appear in every game this season, Brandenburg has the highest batting average for the Salukis at .385 and the fourth most triples in Division I with two. She was promoted to the leadoff role at the Florida Gulf Coast Tournament this past weekend.

“I felt very nervous [batting leadoff] at first,” she said. “But I felt like I was put there for a reason and I had to do my job.”

Meanwhile, Porter is not far behind with a .357 batting average and is the only Saluki besides junior first baseman Shaye Harre to have multiple home runs this season.

The two also have a key leader in the outfield to help guide them: junior All-MVC center fielder Merri Anne Patterson.

Porter said Patterson has eased their transition into college softball.

“She’s always there to help us with where to throw when there’s runners on, or how many outs there are or anything like that,” Porter said. “No matter if it’s a small thing or a big thing, she’s been there to help us.”

But playing games is just one aspect incoming freshmen must adjust to.

Porter said not only the duration, but the intensity of practice increases.

“It’s never like we’re not doing anything,” she said. “It’s all very informative and helpful. Even if we’re just running bases, we get better at situational baserunning like what base do we run to, do we stop at second or go to third? Little things like that.”

For Brandenburg, practice is easier in at least one aspect: the travel time.

Hailing from Mooreland, Okla., a town of just over 1,000 people, she said she had to travel two and a half hours to Oklahoma City during club softball for practice, which limited the amount of practices she could participate in.

“Being focused and practicing has probably been the hardest thing,” Brandenburg said. “We learned to understand that we have to practice every day for a certain amount of time.”

With the team in the middle of a stint where it travels to Florida three out of four weekends, Brandenburg’s traveling experience comes in handy, but it is new for Porter.

Porter said while the travel is rough, the team makes sure to use the time positively.

“A lot of us have the same classes together so we were able to study together and do the homework we missed,” she said. “We all just help each other stay on top of things.” 

The change of scenery has gotten the best of the Salukis recently, as Brandenburg was one of three Dawgs to fall ill in Fort Myers, Fla., last weekend, prompting a cancellation of their final game of the tournament

Brandenburg said the team is resting, rehydrating and should be ready to go for the Stetson Invitational this Friday and Saturday in DeLand, Fla.

Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307

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