Daily Egyptian

Success starts at the top for Saluki softball

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

Saluki softball has run with its own version of the four horsemen this year leading SIU to its best record since 2012.

Senior shortstop Kelsey Gonzalez, freshman left fielder Eyrika Brandenburg, sophomore infielder Sydney Jones and junior first baseman Shaye Harre have been the catalysts for SIU (32-18, 15-10 MVC) at the top of the batting order all season.

The four lead the team in both batting average and on-base percentage, despite having three different batting styles.

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Gonzalez, a pure contact hitter, is followed by Brandenburg, a slap hitter. The power hitters of Jones and Harre are the No. 3 and No. 4 hitters.

“It’s set up for exactly what we want,” hitting coach Jen Sewell said. “When you have a veteran like Gonzo that just sets the tone, she’s kind of a scout for [right-handed hitters]. Eyrika’s job is to kind of be annoying. Shaye’s job is to hit the ball hard and scare people. Sydney is in the mix because she’s a good situational hitter.”

Having the differing styles helps the players as well, serving as a backup system for each other. Gonzalez said Brandenburg is excelling behind her in the order.

“It’s really nice having her behind me because if I don’t work an at-bat where I get on base, she’s right behind me and then she can do that,” Gonzalez said. “If I do get on, she’s been really consistent moving runners over all year.”

Brandenburg’s unselfish, team-centered style of play shows through her 17 sacrifice hits, six more than the next-highest total on the team.

Overall, the four have an on-base percentage of .408, while hitting a combined .319, which is far above the team batting average of .267. 

The rest of the team has not been as hot with the bat, batting .222, which coach Kerri Blaylock said is a concern, but not a catastrophe for the team.

“Obviously we’d like them to hit for a little more average,” she said. “But if they can do their job and fill their role, that’s what we’re looking for.”

The top four of the order has been set nearly all year, with the personnel varying in less than 10 games this season. The middle of the order is where most changes have occurred this season.

The No. 5 through No. 7 hitters have cycled between sophomore right fielder Jessica Heese, junior center fielder Merri Anne Patterson and either freshman Hanna Porter or senior Caylee Cook in the designated player role.

“We look at matchups, but our belief is that if you’re getting it done here in practice, you deserve the time in the games, so we’ve rewarded them by rotating them in and out of games depending on how productive they’ve been,” she said.

Gonzalez said there are many ways to be productive without getting hits, such as sacrifice bunts and flies, as well as long at-bats so waiting batters can see all of a pitcher’s different pitch types.

Even if an at-bat does not result in getting on-base for the top four, they communicate in the dugout to better prepare the other batters for upcoming at-bats.

“I try to see as many pitches as I can,” Gonzalez said. “We can scout, but sometimes it’s different when you go up there and actually see it. So I try to relay what I see, what pitches I saw and what pitch we need to be on.”

The four horsewomen will get their chance to take the MVC championship starting at 4 p.m. this Thursday at Charlotte West Stadium against the winner of Bradley and Missouri State earlier in the day.

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

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