Daily Egyptian

SIU ‘Fall Ball’ primer with softball head coach Kerri Blaylock

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Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Ryan Demer

SIU softball enters fall ball looking to build upon its Missouri Valley Conference championship spring season, where the Salukis posted a 33-24 record to earn a bid in the NCAA tournament.

Southern’s MVC title win last season was the first since 2007, and the fifth in the history of the program. Last season’s NCAA tournament appearance was its first in 10 years, marking the Salukis seventh appearance in school history.

Head coach Kerri Blaylock enters her 19th season at the helm of the SIU softball team, marking her 28th season within the program.

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Before the start of offseason matchups to prepare for the 2018 season, Blaylock listed the captains of this year’s squad as seniors Savanna Dover, Sydney Jones and Savannah Fisher.

SIU looks to have a rounded mix of players ranging from freshmen to seniors according to coach Blaylock. Along with the senior captains, certain players to follow this year include junior Eyrika Brandenburg and sophomores Maddy Vermejan, Kyleigh Decker and Susie Baranski.

“We have two pitchers that are coming back and seven starters that had significant playing time,” Blaylock said. “There are also five freshmen coming in who are very talented.”

The tenured Saluki head coach holds the underclassmen on her team in high regard. She plans on giving the freshman class plenty of playing time, especially during this fall season.

The Salukis use fall ball as a way to ensure everyone on the squad receives ample playing time and at-bats. Coach Blaylock focuses this time on experimenting with different lineups, as well as moving players around the diamond to gain experience at multiple positions.

Generally, collegiate teams try to schedule cakewalk games during fall ball in order to ease their team into the regular season. SIU doesn’t follow that mantra, as its schedule is filled with eight strong regional teams from Division I, Division II and junior colleges.

The NCAA only allows eight exhibition games during fall ball. To vary the competition, Blaylock schedules weekend doubleheaders where Southern plays two different teams. The Salukis have four doubleheaders scheduled this fall against eight different squads, all taking place at Charlotte West Stadium on SIU campus.

The junior colleges may not sound as tough as they are on the exterior, but coach Blaylock made sure to schedule games against some of the most competitive in the region.

“The junior colleges are very good,” she said. “One has gone to Nationals, and one was a single game away from it. So we’re playing some really good competition.”

Coach Blaylock believes the team is in great shape, maintaining a significant amount of players from last season. The team clearly has their mind set on repeating as conference champions.

“We have a very good nucleus for our team from last year,” coach Blaylock said. “Every year our goal is to win a conference championship; if you’re not doing that, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Throughout the opening practices, Blaylock noted the defense has not missed a step from the end of their run in the NCAA tournament through the summer offseason leading to fall ball. SIU’s defense ranked first in the MVC and eighth in all of Division I NCAA in fielding percentage last season.

Coach Blaylock noted the Salukis defense remains strong entering fall games, and the freshman are beginning to adapt to the defensive-minded approach that Southern adheres to on the diamond.

“One thing I noticed from day one of practice is we looked really good on defense,” she added. “Even the freshmen are coming along and understanding.”

Coach Blaylock’s word on the team’s defense held true, as there were no errors committed by SIU in either game of its opening doubleheader on Sunday.

The Salukis faced the Rend Lake College Warriors in game one, and the John A. Logan College Volunteers in game two over the weekend. Senior captain Savanna Dover toed the rubber in the first game for SIU.

She pitched sharply through all five innings of the opening matchup, recording 10 strikeouts while allowing five hits and one walk against the Warriors.

Sophomore second baseman Maddy Vermejan was stellar, moving two runners over in the first inning to set up an RBI situation for sophomore catcher Katelyn Massa and claiming two RBI’s with a bases-clearing triple in her second at-bat.

Massa turned in a huge day at the plate, going 3-for-3 with three RBIs. Sophomore right fielder Susie Baranski also contributed with a pair of singles in Southern’s 8-0 win over Rend Lake in five innings.

In the second matchup of the day against John A. Logan, coach Blaylock switched the lineup around, introducing several freshmen into their first collegiate matchup.

The Salukis scored six runs in the bottom half of the first inning, with three freshman — center fielder Maris Boelens, shortstop Jenny Jansen and right fielder Megan Brown — scoring in the first game of their respective collegiate careers.

SIU added another run in the second, and two more in the bottom of the fourth as freshman infielder Meredith Wernig and freshman catcher Shelby Hodo crossed the plate to give the Salukis a 9-0 lead.

Junior starting pitcher Brianna Jones threw a gem, tallying seven strikeouts in five innings of work while limiting the Volunteers to only three hits in Southern’s second shutout win on the day, 9-0 over JALC.

The Salukis were dominant on offense and defense through both games Sunday. SIU proved the depth of its roster, as there were many different players with different levels of experience who were key contributors to the wins.

“I thought we were great,” coach Blaylock said. “I’m really, really pleased with our pitching and offense. I thought we played complete ball games.”

SIU (2-0) looks to continue its solid play when the Salukis take on the Saint Louis Billikens and the Murray State Racers on Saturday at Charlotte West Stadium as part of another midday double header. Game one against the Billikens is scheduled for 12 p.m., with game two against the Racers to begin after completion of game one.

Sports writer Ryan Demer can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @RyanDemer_DE 

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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