Sept. 13, 2012
By Bill Ford
CARBONDALE, IL - Four months ago today, the SIU softball team's 2012 season came to an end in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
It was a bittersweet end to an exciting run. The fourth-seeded Salukis won back-to-back one-run thrillers over Creighton and No. 1 seed Northern Iowa to punch their ticket to the championship game, only to fall to Illinois State in the final.
The loss also marked the end of Mallory Duran-Sellers', Haley Gorman's and Alicia Junker's eligibility. Entering 2013, the Salukis will have some big holes to fill both on the field and in the lineup.
As the Salukis enter the first weekend of fall play with a pair of games against John A. Logan College and Southeast Missouri State on Sunday, here are a three story lines for the team as it starts putting together the pieces for 2013.
Who's batting leadoff?
Duran-Sellers was everything a coach could ask for out of a leadoff hitter. She had a career on-base percentage of .444 and scored more runs than any Saluki in history.
During her senior season, Duran-Sellers posted a .502 on-base percentage with team highs of 62 hits and 45 walks. She made the most of her time on base, too, stealing 17 bases and breaking an SIU and MVC record with 61 runs scored.
Replacing that productivity is one of the biggest tasks coach Kerri Blaylock and company will face this season. Blaylock said a few players will be candidates for the one spot.
Junior Kelsea Ashton is one possibility for the lead-off spot.
Junior Kelsea Ashton is a possibility. She ranked in the team's top three last year in on-base percentage (.432), walks (37) and runs scored (35). The only disadvantage of batting Ashton leadoff would be compromising her bunting ability. Last year, she was among the nation's leaders with 23 sacrifice hits.
Who's playing center?
As efficient as she was on the base paths, Duran-Sellers was equally deft in the outfield. She posted a .982 fielding percentage last season with 105 putouts and only two errors. She rarely overplayed a ball and found a way to catch balls most players would let drop.
Blaylock said it looks like sophomore Kaylyn Harker will take over in center. Last season, Harker split time in left field with Michelle Bradley. In 27 starts, she posted 31 putouts with no errors. She also showed some flashes of speed in her pinch-running duties, swiping 13 bases in 14 attempts.
Who's playing short?
Southern's last big opening heading into 2013 is at shortstop.
Gorman manned the position for the last four years, twice earning All-MVC accolades. Her name is etched in the SIU record book for a number of offensive categories, but she was also a reliable stopper in the middle infield. She especially shined during her senior season when she recorded a career-high 108 putouts with only 11 errors for a career-best .952 fielding percentage.
Replacing Gorman will be freshman Kelsey Gonzalez. Though she will be thrown into the fire for her first collegiate season, she'll have a good mentor close at hand as Gorman will be a student assistant this season for Saluki softball.