Feb. 2, 2009
By Kyle Herm
CARBONDALE, Ill. - A solid pitching foundation, combined with power, speed and clutch defense defined SIU's five-straight NCAA regional appearances from 2003-07, and back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference Championships in 2004 and 2005. With all three hurlers returning, and four of the top six hitters back - the 2009 Southern Illinois softball team mirrors the talented squads that have made Saluki softball a yearly tradition of excellence.
The Salukis return pitching, power hitting and speed, and have added highly acclaimed newcomers to make for a thrilling 2009 season.
Head coach Kerri Blaylock feels the components are present to reach the program's yearly goals.
"Our goal every year is to win a conference championship, and where our program has been, we want to push for that every season," Blaylock explained. "I'm excited with the potential this team has, because they have the ingredients to win a league title and get to the NCAA's."
At the forefront of its run at a conference title, and return trip to the NCAA tournament is a trio of talented pitchers who all made great strides last season. Blaylock, a former standout college pitcher, recognizes the importance of having a solid pitching core.
"The keys to success start in the circle, as it does with every good team," said Blaylock. "I've always said that pitching drives the train - and good pitching can really carry you."
"Their experience last year is going to help so much this season," said Blaylock. "All three are such extreme competitors and have worked so hard this off season. I'm really excited for this year with our pitchers."
Waters went 3-1 with a miniscule .27 earned run average and came one out away from tossing a perfect game against SEMO at Charlotte West Stadium. Glosson only allowed opponents to hit .212, and McNamara recorded nine strikeouts in only 7 2/3 innings.
"We've worked really hard on hitting our spots, and it showed in the fall," said Blaylock. "They're understanding where you have to throw the ball to get good college hitters out."
The Salukis bring back two of the top outfielders from a year ago in junior Katie Wilson (Alton, Ill.) and senior Katie Schmidt (Millstadt, Ill.). Wilson ranked third on the team with a .290 average and Schmidt clubbed 11 extra base hits for a .500 slugging percentage.
In addition, sophomore Chelsea Held (Pendleton, Ind.) returns after a formidable .281 average and five stolen bases in her freshman season. She also had a team-best .478 average during fall exhibition play. Wilson, Schmidt and Held also combined for 28 of SIU's 48 stolen bases a year ago.
Freshman Mallory Duran (Windsor, Colo.), a speedy and talented newcomer will also play a key role in the outfield. Duran was named the Gatorade Colorado Softball Player of the Year twice in high school and had nine hits and batted .321 during an outstanding 2008 fall season.
"I feel we have the fastest, and most talented outfield we've ever had," said Blaylock. "They can really track the ball, and aren't afraid to dive or crash into the wall. We feel very fortunate to have such a steady group patrolling the outfield."
The infield returns two of the Salukis' top hitters and defenders in senior third baseman Katie Wagner (Mt. Vernon, Ill.) and junior second baseman Alicia Garza (Lafayette, Ind.). Wagner led the team with nine home runs last year, while Garza provided a team-best 27 runs and a stellar .983 fielding percentage.
"Wagner and Garza are two of the most steady forces on the team," said Blaylock. "At their positions, they're two of the best in the Missouri Valley Conference."
SIU will also infuse freshman Haley Gorman (Arcadia, Calif.), who was second on the team with a .462 average this fall, into the shortstop role, and place fifth-year senior Chelsea Petty (Pinckneyville, Ill.) at first.
"Haley was highly recruited and is a very good ball player," said Blaylock. "We'll have a good mix of youth and experience within a very versatile infield."
The main catching duty will fall in the hands of senior Jayme Wamsley (Hermitage, Tenn.), who returns after starting 52 games last season.
"Wamsley has taken a lot of games behind the plate, and does a great job dealing with the pitchers," said Blaylock. "She's a veteran with a very good arm, and gets everyone where they're suppose to be."
"Trapani has worked really hard to become a good receiver, and Allie (Hanson) will be in the mix as a catcher and designated player," said Blaylock.
Wagner, Wilson, Schmidt and Garza, will spearhead the Salukis' offensive prowess this season, after the quartet combined for half of the team's extra base hits, and 71 percent of the team's stolen bases last year.
"Offensively we have a great mix of power and speed this year," said Blaylock. "We feel we also have some very good freshman who can swing the bats well, and scoot on the base paths. I'm really excited about the athletes we have on this team."
Blaylock has set up a schedule designed to challenge the team during non-conference play, in order to prepare for another competitive season in the Missouri Valley Conference. In non-conference action, the Salukis will face 10 opponents who reached the NCAA tournament last year, four that advanced to the NCAA Super Regional, and a pair of teams that made it to the Women's College World Series.
"We always want to play the best, because it prepares us for our conference season," Blaylock explained. "It will be a challenging non-conference portion of the schedule, opening up in California, and facing some great programs at the NFCA (Leadoff Classic), but we'll just try to bump people off, take care of business, and see what happens."