Sunday, February 15, 2015

Opening Thoughts on Herd Softball

This started as a football blog but what the hey, its spring time. Well almost as it certainly feels like it should be since NCAA baseball and softball have kicked off their seasons. This blog will focus mostly on Herd diamond sports but every now and again I get a wild tangent I like to discuss. Feel free to comments on the posts and ask questions. I'll do my best to answer these to the best of my ability.
Falecia Collier/Herd Team gathers before the game.

So without further delay, let's play ball!

Marshall Softball is rolling after a 3-1 weekend in Greenville, N.C. at the East Carolina Pirate Snow Invitational and is 8-1 overall this season. Here is the craziest part of this year's team, they have had one, maybe two games they have hit the ball to the expectations. How is the Herd 8-1 you ask, lights out pitching by sophomore Jordan Dixon and spectacular defense every game. Do not read into the shortcoming of the offensive expectations as several players are off to a hot start, but the big hit and more importantly, the timely hits have been far and few between. Either way Coach Shonda Stanton's club is out to one of its best starts since she took over the program.

Through the first two weekend's, Marshall's 3-1 loss to Towson is the only blemish on the resume. But how can a team that took 27 games last season to capture eight wins do it in only nine games this season? One word easily answers that question, defense.

Falecia Collier/Dixon works in the circle for the Herd.
Everything starts in the circle for this team and the lady leading the way is Dixon. After picking up CUSA Co-Pitcher of the Week and College Sports Madness National Pitcher of the Week after her performances in week one, Dixon has solidified her spot as the ace for this Herd squad and this season she has backup. Junior Brittanie Fowler picked up her first win Saturday after working 5.2 innings of two-hit ball and appears to offer a solid number two in the rotation behind Dixon.

However, that is just the beginning as this season the defense resembles that of the 2013 team that appeared in the NCAA Regionals in Lexington, KY giving the pitching staff some much needed backup.

Falecia Collier/ Braxton slides into 3rd.
Locking down third base for the Herd is Shaelynn Braxton. Making the transition from the outfield to the hot corner last season, the junior has flashed the leather while daring runners to try to beat out the throw as she tosses darts across the diamond. Few balls get past her into the outfield and she is not afraid to wear a ball to keep it in the infield. Although Braxton has been a bit sluggish out of the gate at the plate, her defense has been solid.

Dave Myslenski/Howard works at
short for the Herd.
Falecia Collier/ D'Orazio fields
at 2nd for the Herd.
A look up the middle of the field finds something a bit unusual for a young team with early success, two freshman. Kylie Howard has become a rock at shortstop and Elicia D'Orazio is nothing short of amazing with her speed and range at second. The frosh combo appears to have played as teammates for years as their timing and communication is on point. Howard has a great step to the ball and can make a strong throw from the hole while turning the double play with sheer precision. Meanwhile, D'Orazio is a ground ball pitcher's dream as anything hit to the right side will typically find its way into her glove. Both Howard and D'Orazio have great range allowing the outfield to play a step or two deeper than normal without being out of position of a loopy liner or lazy fly ball. The duo's instincts are fun to watch and they have one speed they know how to play, all out. D'Orazio crashed head first into a fence Thursday night while trying to rob an out on a ball trying to get out of play and made a diving catch for a lazy fly ball just outside the circle last weekend for the final out of the inning. In a position Stanton has been looking for consistency, its safe to say the foundation of the infield starts here and the pieces are concreted in place.

Dave Myslenki/ Myslenksi
ready at 1st for the Herd.
First base for the Herd has given Stanton several options without sacrificing defensive production as she has three options available to rotate at the position and the offensive production of any of the three could be the deciding fac
tor. Rebecca Myslenski has shown to be the front runner for the Herd after bouncing back from a knee injury that slowed her last season. The sophomore has anchored the position with few mistakes while adding a nice stick to Stanton's lineup. While she works to learn the intricate details of the position, she has been rewarded with great defense to back her up after a miscue. Not to mention her presence at the plate has been a much needed stick in the bottom half of the order.

Providing backup to Myslenski are Alyssa Woodrum and Raquel Escareno. Woodrum has appeared in two games while working in pinch-hit duties in others. Escareno has worked at both first base and right field but has found herself on the outside looking in due to a quiet start at the plate. After a slow start at the plate in Charleston, S.C., the junior found some pop off the bat to open the tournament at ECU.

Dave Myslenski/ Lucas touches home
after going yard in Charleston, S.C.
Stanton finds a unique problem for a coach to have when placing a player behind the dish, two solid options in junior Katalin Lucas and freshman Taylor McCord. Lucas is a catcher by trade but also works at shortstop for the Herd. Behind the dish, Lucas receives and blocks the ball with precision and can snap throw to any base from her knees forcing opposing runners to think twice before leaking away from a bag. Lucas also gives the Herd a power bat in the lineup as she settled in the cleanup spot in Greenville. Lucas has great patience at the plate and seldom chases bad pitch out of the zone. She owns the only long ball for the Herd through the first nine games.

Falecia Collier/ McCord looks for
the sign. 
Giving Lucas a reliable backup behind the dish is McCord. As she makes the adjustment to the collegiate level, she brings a cannon of an arm to the table that has already cut down three runners this season. The frosh works well with all three Herd pitchers and provides Stanton future at the catcher position while offering production now.

Falecia Collier/ Zerkle with a bunt hit for the Herd.
The speed of Marshall's outfield may at times make seem as if there are four players in the grass rather than three. The Herd outfield contains two CUSA All-Preseason Players in Morgan Zerkle and Kaelynn Greene along with senior co-captain Emily Cooper who has come on strong to start the season. Zerkle anchors the Herd outfield in center field and provides gap-to-gap speed. The sophomore is coming off an unbelievable weekend at ECU including a 5-for-5 performance in the win over Bucknell which included four singles, a three-run inside the park homerun, four runs and three stolen bases. Zerkle paces the team batting .656 this season and wreaks havoc on the bases anytime she gets on.

Dave Myslenski/ Greene
at the plate.
Greene has moved into left this season in the outfield but has had little trouble making the move. Much like Zerkle, she game cover the left-center gap with ease while expanding her range deep into foul territory. Greene provides a powerful one-two punch with Zerkle at the top of the order for the Herd and poses the speed to leg out even the shortest bunts that trickle into fair territory. When Greene and Zerkle occupy the base paths at the same time, opposing pitchers are limited on the pitch selections because of the speed factor by the duo.

Starting her senior season as a utility player for the Herd, Cooper earned a spot in the lineup card with a solid performance in the Charleston Challenge. Cooper continued her hot start in Greenville adding a multi-resourceful stick at the plate. Mix that with the speed she adds gives Stanton another tool for her aggressive style of play on the bases.
Dave Myslenski/ Cooper fires up
the team after a hit.

With everything mentioned above its hard to believe that Stanton could have anything left, but as the late night infomercial says, "But waits there's more!"

Senior Kristina Braxton provides Stanton a solid option in the outfield and a left-handed stick off the bench to pinch hit. Braxton does a great job providing senior leadership in a utility role for this team and while bring gap-to-gap power to the plate.

Step inside Stanton's stable of utility players and one will find freshmen Jordan Calliflower and Madi Marshall who offer good speed as pinch runners off the bench. Stanton also has Marissa Bethke inside the circle who is trying to find her way along in her first season with the Herd. The righty has Dixon like pop on her delivery but has struggled to find the zone in her two outings this season. Should she find that command, Stanton may feel like Christmas came early this year with three viable options inside the circle.

Dave Myslenski/ Fowler
works in the circle.
Stanton's club is off to its best start since 2010 after starting 7-2 through the first nine games. Coming off a 28-31 season after getting out to a 2-8 start in 2014, Stanton has the pitching and defense the 2014 team lacked. However, the offensive production has not met the expectations of the 16-year coach who is only 12 wins from 500 in her career. This includes appearances in the CUSA Championship game in each of the past three seasons, including a NCAA Regional berth after defeating Houston for the CUSA title in 2013.

This team has All-American talent planted right here in Huntington and wearing green and white. Stanton has shown she is not afraid to take on any level of talent with her non-conference scheduling each season in preparation for another run in May in hopes of another championship. But this season, expectations are much higher for Stanton, calling this team "special" several times this season. Stanton has said several times this season the most difficult thing for her and the staff is properly managing this team with all the talent that is available. Sounds like a great problem to have considering 12 of the 21 members are underclassmen.

Sounds like Stanton has poured a solid foundation to not only take CUSA by storm but the nation as well. The expectations are there now its time to answer the call.

Starting 8-1 this season sounds like a nice hello.

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