Slippery Rock Softball is set to return to the field this February 25 in hopes to develop into a PSAC tournament team.
The past few years of Slippery Rock Softball have been a story of young players growing into their talent while learning how to be leaders and teammates to each other. Head Coach Stacey Rice believes they are ready to take a step forward with a more balanced blend of young and experienced players.
“It’s great, we’re really looking forward to seeing how that all plays out,” Coach Rice said. “We have a really great combination of experience, leadership, talent and young talent, our team is very dynamic.”
Kelsi Anderson is a great example of a player who has developed throughout her two years at The Rock.
Anderson came out of the gates very strong her freshman year where she compiled 99 strikeouts, the most for a freshman pitcher in SRU history.
As for the 2022 season, Anderson held the team lead in ERA (earned run average), wins, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched and strikeouts. Her 146 strikeouts last season set the record for most in the program in a single season ever.
“She is definitely our ace,” Coach Rice said.
Anderson owns a sparkling 2.76 career ERA in 228.2 innings pitched. She has also struck out 245 batters in that span. Just a junior, she already ranks 5th all-time in career strikeouts at SRU. She also holds 7th in shutouts and 16th in career wins among several other accolades.
“She is phenomenal on the mound, she is a great teammate, she is a great leader, she is a captain this year. She is everything that you’d want in a captain. She performs on the field; she is very positive and she is a good friend and a good teammate. It’s really easy to get behind Kelsi. She is just an excellent role model,” Coach Rice said.
That success results in a massive benefit to the team, both in the form of a direct impact on games and the impact Anderson has on those around her, particularly younger players who are developing.
“She is mentoring our young pitchers as they’re working through navigating this whole thing at the next level,” Coach Rice said.
Anderson was named a captain for this season in addition to two other returning captains on the team, redshirt senior pitcher Chloe Sharman and redshirt senior infielder Cami Fisk.
“Chloe and Kami are returning captains… The leadership, the 5th-year seniors especially, I expect them to do great things this year,” Coach Rice said.
Sharman accrued a 3.16 ERA last season over 68.2 innings pitched. She also ranks 2nd all-time in career saves at SRU, 6th in career strikeouts and 3rd all-time in career pitching appearances. Fisk was one of The Rock’s leading hitters last year with a .268 AVG (batting average) and .454 SLG (slugging percentage).
The upperclassman leadership is in place, but there are plenty of promising young risers on their way up.
“We have great talent coming in. We’ll see how that all plays out,” Coach Rice said.
Coach Rice shared how maturity is one of the most important traits she looks for in players. Among other benefits, mature players push everyone around them to be the best version of themselves on and off the field.
“I love how they push our upperclassmen,” Coach Rice said. “That’s what’s most exciting about our freshman class is that they upped the game of the returners. Any time you have friendly competition you’re going to get the best out of everybody.”
One of the more enjoyable parts of sports is seeing who blossoms into a great player from a particularly young age. Seeing as SRU softball is currently a good blend of young and returning players, there are plenty of potential surprises.
“You never know who it’s going to be. I know we have an extremely talented young group,” Coach Rice said.
All anyone could hope for is the potential of a player having a freshman season like now sophomore pitcher Alexsa Hurd.
“Alexsa Hurd was all-conference last year as a freshman. I actually see her taking even bigger steps this year in her role,” Coach Rice said.
Hurd pitches and hits, and she was successful in both endeavors last year. She was 3rd on the team in ERA, innings pitched and strikeouts among players with at least 10 innings pitched. She was likely also The Rock’s best hitter. Hurd compiled a .309 AVG and .958 OPS (on-base percentage + slugging), the OPS being her squad’s best. This was all on the way to being named second team all PSAC-West as a freshman.
“She’s more of a utility, she pitches, she plays second, she hits, she kinda does everything for us. And that’s a lot to take on as a freshman so for her to do so well with all of that on her shoulders as a freshman, I really see her excelling in her sophomore year,” Coach Rice said.
The PSAC always has been and always will be a difficult conference to excel in. Coach Rice noted that it is important to remember that, despite the daunting task ahead of Slippery Rock Softball, every other PSAC softball team is staring down the same beast.
“We’re all in the same boat,” Coach Rice said.
It is endlessly important in a conference such as this, where most teams are clawing for a playoff spot within the final few weeks of their schedule.
“The competition is strong. It’s always a dogfight. There are no easy games. There are no easy wins. It really is anybody’s game,” Coach Rice said. “We’re always so close, we’re always a couple of games away.”
It will be to the team’s benefit that they have four different trips to make before they begin conference play.
The White and Green will be making their way to West Virginia, Maryland and Florida at various points in order to prepare. When a sport starts so early in the year, it is difficult to replicate game scenarios realistically because the weather often does not allow it in the north.
“All of our spring games are really important in getting ready. We don’t get to practice outside very much so the early spring games are essential to our success in prepping for the conference,” Coach Rice said.
Not to be overlooked is the development of individual players into a well-oiled machine during these trips. The players spend a lot of time together bonding to create effective communication which is essential to being a successful team. Additionally, the players have to opportunity to have fun together which is hopefully a feeling that will be mirrored when they are playing together against PSAC rivals.
“When you spend a lot of time with each other you’re also building that cohesive unit… It’s always a lot of fun,” Coach Rice said.
The hope is that all the gears will be in motion after the early spring games for The Rock to make a run at PSAC playoffs. The mix of young potential and proven players should add up to a squad that is ready for playoff contention.
“It’s just making sure that we keep everybody healthy, we keep the competitive spirit, the drive continues, we don’t get tired, we don’t get hurt, we don’t get sick,” Coach Rice said. “This season we have a real opportunity with proven players, competitive players, so I definitely just want to make that turn to getting a berth to the postseason.”
Outside of the obvious statistical and standings-motivated goals, Coach Rice also shared the other assets of a player she looks for.
“I want to see leadership; I want to see the younger players start to mature. When you have a younger team, you do want to see that maturity,” Coach Rice said. “A goal of mine almost every season is to see the freshman grow and develop and to see my sophomores take a step in leadership. And just to see different leadership roles and character and how they can all work together to achieve that goal. That’s always the non-statistic goal, getting a more cohesive unit and a team who plays together.”