Recent success stems from bench players

By Tony McDaniel

Salukis respond to coach’s challenge

Saluki softball has been on a roll lately, and a large part of the recent success is coming from the players on its bench.

Since the series opener against Bradley University April 12, the Salukis (28-23, 15-11) have posted a record of 11-5. A large part of the team’s success has come from strong outings from its starting pitchers and offensive explosions from key players in the lineup, but there is also a change happening in the atmosphere of the SIU dugout.

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After SIU dropped the opening game of the series at Bradley 5-1, coach Kerri Blaylock made a challenge to her team to get louder in the dugout.

“It felt like we came to a turning point after we lost the first game at Bradley to where we were flat and unenergetic,” Blaylock said.

After that moment, the team won seven straight bolstered by a new and more energetic atmosphere in the dugout. The Salukis organized chants, came up with new rituals and overall just became a louder team.

At the heart of this newfound energy have been two sophomores, Caylee Cook and Taylor Harris.

Cook and Harris aren’t featured in Blaylock’s every day lineup and usually enter the game in pinch-hit situations, but the two players have found a way to make an impact from off the field.

“Caylee and I just started screaming, and everybody followed,” Harris said. “Kerri challenged us to be better with our emotions, and we did. We took it to another level.”

Since then, the team has created new chants or things to sing when certain players are batting.

When freshman Shaye Harre is batting, Cook and Harris lead the team in making a high pitch siren noise, for sophomore Kelsey Gonzalez the team sings a song from the movie “Spice World.”

Cook also leads the team in something she calls the world’s best roller coaster. When the opposing team makes a pitching change Cook goes in front of the Saluki dugout and waves her arms above her head as if she is on a roller coaster, and the team follows her lead.

“I’ll stand in front of everyone, and they’ll do what I do basically,” Cook said. “We’ve gotten the whole Dawg Pound and the crowd to do it.”

Harris says the object of all these cheers isn’t to pump up the Salukis, but to rattle the competition.

“Basically we want to be the team that everyone is annoyed with,” she said. “We want to be the team that people hate because they’re so annoying and obnoxious.”

Blaylock, Harris and Cook all agree the Salukis success in the last 16 games stems from the commotion the bench makes.

“In the past, when we were down, our emotions would go down and everything else goes with it,” Harris said. “With us being up and positive, and cheering even when we’re down, it’s helping us. We’ve played three or four games when were losing and our energy has still been high and we’ve come back to win.”

Cook said she thinks all the players on the team like the organized cheers and get in on the fun, but not all the players are as good at it as others.

“The person I think that likes it the most is Kalyn Harker, she’s all about it. If she’s not hitting or on defense she is right in the middle of all of it, she’s probably the loudest,” Cook said. “Shaye really loves it too, she gets really off beat with her claps, but she tries.”

Blaylock said next year, Harris and Cook will have expanded roles in the team when it comes to their playing time, but she doesn’t want them to stop bringing the energy they have brought to the team this season.

Cook and Harris said they wouldn’t stop being loud in their junior seasons.

The two of them said they’ve already begun collaborating on beats for next year, and are looking into investing in drumsticks to make extra noise. They’ve even been doing research on YouTube to see what other teams around the nation do.

The Salukis will take their energetic bench to Normal this weekend for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament beginning today.

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected], @tonymcdanielDE or at 536-3311 ext. 282

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