Softball begins season with congested schedule

By Tony McDaniel

The SIU softball team will start its journey to the 2014 Missouri Valley Conference tournament this weekend with five games in three days.

SIU will start the season in the Century Link Classic hosted by Texas State University. The Salukis will play five games beginning with Ball State University and Texas State on Friday. SIU will then take on Stephen F. Austin University and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi University Saturday. They will finish the tournament Sunday, with another game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

The Salukis finished fifth last season in the MVC with a record of 25-27. This season, the Salukis were picked to finish fourth in the MVC, and are ranked sixth nationally in the National Fast-pitch Coaches Association All-Academic rankings. SIU will attempt to make a run at the MVC title behind a strong group of senior leadership.

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Coach Kerri Blaylock chooses three players at the beginning of each season to captain her team to help lead the Salukis on and off the field. This season, Blaylock chose senior infielders Jayna Spivey and Kelsea Ashton, along with Kalyn Harker, a junior outfielder. Blaylock said her three captains all have varying personalities, which creates an interesting dynamic.

“Kelsea is more vocal, Jayna is the one that keeps her nose to the grindstone and does what she’s supposed to,” Blaylock said. “Kalyn’s a real responsible one, has to do everything very Type-A and has to do everything right.”

Blaylock said apart from the captains, she feels all the seniors and juniors on her team can step up and be vocal leaders on the field.

“They’ve been around, and they kind of understand what our expectations are,” she said.

One of the team’s senior leaders is catcher Allie VadeBoncouer. VadeBoncouer began starting at catcher in 2012, and has played in all 106 games the Salukis had the last two seasons.

“I’m kind of a quiet leader behind the plate,” VadeBoncouer said. “I like being that person that people can look up to as a leader that does not have to be vocal. Kelsea is the vocal leader on the field, I just kind of lead by example.”

Ashton has started at third base for the Salukis since her sophomore year. Last season, Ashton led the team in sacrifice hits with eight, and finished third in walks with 28. In 2012, Ashton led the nation in sacrifice hits with 23. Ashton says her ability to see the strike zone and advance runners began at an early age.

“I think I focused on that a lot when I was younger,” she said. “My dad had me bunting over and over off the pitching machine. I really like that I can see the ball. My sophomore year we had a really good lead off hitter, Mallory (Duran-Sellars), so she’d get on first then I’d bunt to move her over.”

Ashton will get plenty of help offensively with fellow senior Spivey in the lineup. Spivey made the All- MVC team last season partly because of her ability to hit for power at the plate. Spivey, who plays second base, starts the season fourth in SIU history with 29 career home runs and ninth in RBIs with 111. Spivey was named to the preseason All-Conference team, along with fellow teammate Meredith Wilson, a junior from Granite City.

“I’m honored that the other coaches voted for me,” Spivey said. “It doesn’t really mean anything pre-season. You don’t know what a player’s going to do throughout the season; it’s how you do during the season. We’ll see how it goes.”

Playing next to Spivey at first base is senior Taylor Orsburn. Orsburn has started at least 50 games each season at first base for the Salukis since her freshman campaign. Orsburn’s stats show she can help lead the team with her bat. She has a batting average of .318 over her career, to go with her 107 RBIs. Orsburn formerly played for Cobden High vSchool, where she helped win three state titles for the Lady AppleKnockers. She also pitched in high school where she posted a 41-5 record and an ERA of 1.11 as a senior.

Orsburn said she knows what she needs to work on to be ready for her senior season.

“I hope to live up to the same standards I’ve been doing the entire time I’ve been here if not more,” Orsburn said. “I’ll definitely be taking more swings and making sure that I’m keeping my mechanics straight. I just want to provide for the team as much as I can.”

Blaylock said the goal for the Salukis this season is simple.

“The goal is always to win the conference championship and to make it to an NCAA regional,” she said. “If you don’t have that as a goal and you don’t go out to win every game, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.”

VadeBoncouer said she has the same goal as her coach, and that she and the rest of the team are eager to get the season started.

“I want to win conference, I want to get a ring. Obviously it’s our last chance [as seniors], we’ve all been here and been through it all so we just want to get some hardware,” VadeBoncouer said. “We’re hungry to play, we just want to get outside. We’ve been inside for two weeks now, we want to get on the field and I think we’re going to play well.”

The Salukis will start their road to the 2014 MVC tournament Friday at 10 a.m. against the Ball State Cardinals in San Marcos, Texas.

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