Jan. 17, 2012
By Megan Kramper
CARBONDALE, Ill. - With a strong offensive core returning from a 2011 squad that went 36-17, the Southern Illinois softball team will again be a tough opponent for its competition as it heads into its 44th year of competition.
"This fall we have shown that we can be pretty good offensively at times and I feel like the question mark of the season and I'm anxious to see what they will be like is our pitching and defense," said head coach Kerri Blaylock, who enters her 13th season with the Salukis.
The Salukis placed third in the Missouri Valley Conference a season ago with a 16-7 mark against their conference opponents, including an 11-1 record at Charlotte West Stadium.
The Salukis will get a new look in the circle this season as they return just one pitcher from the 2011 campaign. Brittney Lang (Leavenworth, Kan.) will be the veteran despite pitching just 19.1 innings last season.
"What I saw from the fall was that Brittney Lang came back from the summer ready to go. She's put on some weight and she's got herself in great physical shape...and we're hoping she can be a surprise to some people," Blaylock said.
Wunderlich went 15-7 in action as a senior where she recorded 210 strikeouts, eight shutouts, and 41 consecutive scoreless innings of her 161 pitched.
"These two have shown me that they can compete...I don't think I have a number one at this point, I think I'm going to let them all fight it out for the starting spot," Blaylock said.
Senior Haley Gorman (Arcadia, Calif.) returns for her final season as at shortstop to lead a solid infield that also includes two first-team All-MVC selections.
Sophomore infielders Taylor Orsburn (Alto Pass, Ill.) and Jayna Spivey (Rosiclare, Ill.), both first team all-conference picks, will lead the Salukis charge on defense at first and second base, respectively.
Senior Alicia Junker (Saugus, Calif.) returns healthy for her final season after battling injuries most of the 2011 season. Junker will see time at first base along with Orsburn.
The Salukis will look to fill a void at third base with the departure of Natalee Weissinger but Blaylock said sophomore Kelsea Ashton (Carterville, Ill.) and freshman Mackenzie Leding (Springfield, Tenn.) are both good candidates to fill the position.
"Kelsea Ashton has proven that she can be a very good defensive player for us and started hitting really well in the fall," Blaylock said. "Mackenzie Leding is a big hitter and needs to improve on her defense but is working really, really hard so those two will fight it out for that open spot,"
"Allie is a steady force behind the plate and she also has really good offensive statistics," Blaylock said.
Sydney Shelton (Glen Carbon, Ill.) will split time with VadeBoncouer at catcher as she primarily used her speed as a pinch runner last season.
"I feel like this is a veteran group in the infield and they know what we expect from them as coaches," Blaylock said. "We have been working really hard this fall just on a lot of glove work because I want our defensive percentage to be higher this season."
Anchored by Duran-Sellers, the Salukis are deep in outfielders. Duran-Sellers will move to center from her spot in left field last season.
Wilson, who played infield during her prep career at St. Joseph's Academy, will move to the outfield in her first year at SIU.
"I will probably determine who will be playing the outfield by how they are hitting, so if someone is performing really well they will get time but we do have some depth and I expect all five of them to get playing time," Blaylock said.
The Salukis return their top five hitters from 2011, which held the second-best overall batting average in the MVC. Duran-Sellers, a first-team All-MVC pick, led the team at the plate, compiling a .398 average as she broke the single season runs scored record with 54 last season.
Blaylock credited associate head coach Jen Sewell, the team's hitting coach, with helping develop the Salukis' strong offensive attack.
"After working with Coach Sewell for a full year and the kids understand what she is trying to accomplish with them what I hope we have in this group but the ability to swing the bat well but that we are never out of the game and come from behind if needed," Blaylock said.
The designated player spot will also be up for grabs this season. The Salukis could rotate players in the position depending on who is in the starting lineup, Blaylock said. Wilson and Leding are two strong bats who could be up for the job as is VadeBoncouer could also transition into the role when not starting as catcher.
The Salukis will begin their 2012 campaign on Feb. 11 against Miami (Ohio) at the Kennesaw State Classic in Woodstock, Ga.