The Slippery Rock University softball team has had the distinct look of two very different teams at times this season and that was on full display Saturday afternoon at the SRU Softball Complex against California University (Pa.).
With sophomore ace Camie Shumaker on the mound, SRU (14-21, 6-6 PSAC) allowed just one earned run on seven hits through 11 innings. With either senior reliever Andria Copelli or freshman starter Chloe Sharman on the mound, The Rock allowed eight earned runs on eight hits through just three innings.
Slippery Rock head coach Stacey Rice attributed part of the problem to the fact that Shumaker’s prowess on the mound makes up for a lot of shortcomings.
“Our team believes in her so when she’s out on the field, the girls know we have every opportunity to win,” Rice said. “There’s a focus that comes into play and they trust her, so they play better.”
Picking up a 3-0 win in game one, Shumaker one-hit the Vulcans (9-17, 5-5) while a two-run RBI from sophomore catcher Leah Vith provided the run support. Game two began with Shumaker back on the mound and the ace lasted until the fourth inning; upon her exit from the game, a barrage of Vulcan home runs led to a 9-1 rout.
Rice pointed to the three home runs given, a trend that has continued over recent games for SRU, as the biggest difference between Shumaker and Sharman.
“I think giving up home runs is the primary problem. It wasn’t because our defense made all these errors all the sudden; you have to keep the ball in the park,” said Rice. “There’s a difference between a sophomore pitcher who has some experience and a freshman pitcher who does not.”
In game one, Shumaker pitched all seven innings of one of her most dominant outings of the season. Shutting out the Vulcans, Shumaker allowed just one hit while striking out three batters.
Vith’s two-run RBI single scored two Rock batters in the third inning and redshirt freshman first baseman Adeline Nicholson reached base in the fifth inning to score the third and final runner of the game.
With Shumaker back on the mound in game two, SRU started fast when freshman utility player Maggie Moore drove in a runner with an RBI single up the middle.
The promising start fizzled out following Shumaker’s exit after the fourth inning.
Sharman entered the game to start the fifth inning and following an inning of work, she had allowed three runs due to two Vulcan home runs– a problem Shumaker had her freshman season.
“We’re just seeing Chloe develop and grow and it got the best of her on that day. We put her out there, knowing we trusted her, and she’s proven that she should be out there. She just didn’t win the competition that day.”
Lasting just one and two-third innings, Copelli was inserted in the game to stop the bleeding but ended up fairing worse than her freshman counterpart.
With the bats going cold, again, and pitching falling apart, The Rock stumbled to a 1-9 defeat. Rice said despite the loss, Sharman earned the chance to pitch and gain much-needed experience moving forward.
“We have had these conversations. She still needs to learn how to paint the corners [of the strike zone] rather than just throwing at the corners,” said Rice. “When you’re a freshman, you’re just throwing strikes and I hate to say they just know how to throw it one way, but there are multiple ways to throw a screwball. Even though I may call a curveball, they have to, as the pitcher, know where the batter is standing in the batters’ box and where to place the ball. It takes time.”
While pitching has allowed SRU to stay competitive in most games this season, Rock batters have continued to be mired in inconsistency. However, a majority of the starters in the season’s lineup are freshmen or sophomores.
“Our offense is young. We’ve got Megan Brown who’s a senior and [Mackelvey] is a senior and those kids are at the top of the lineup as well as batting averages,” Rice said. “Myers is struggling a little bit; she had knee surgery over the summer, and I think she’s still working her way back.”
With four series left in the season, the chances to gain experience this season are winding down, but Rice is hopeful the team will begin cutting down on the mistakes that have plagued the team since early March.
“It’s experience. A lot of the people in our lineup either didn’t play or didn’t start last year. I think the talent is there,” Rice said. “I think over the back end of the season, we’ll start to see some maturity grow in those younger players. I think we’ll see those strikeouts start to come down.”
A matchup with Indiana University (Pa.) looms Wednesday afternoon at Podbielski Field. While the contest is not a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference-West matchup, Rice is focused on just picking up sweeps from now on.
“We need to try to get sweeps because that’s what is going to give us a little bit of a leg up. I cannot control what other teams do. It’s going to be a tight race, and I guarantee you it comes down to the last game of the season,” Rice said.
The first pitch is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.