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May 4, 2012
Senior weekend could be a time of reflection for Marshall softball this weekend.
But for the seven seniors preparing to take Dot Hicks Field for the last time, there is still some work to be done to make those memories a little sweeter.
The Herd will play host to UCF Saturday for a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. The squads will close regular season play Sunday with a Noon finale.
It will be the last time Herd seniors Rebecca Gamby, Alianna Telles, Jessica Hughes, Melissa Loesing, Samantha Spurlock, Erika Bennett and Amanda Lara will play in Huntington.
Their paths and roads to Huntington were winding roads. Gamby is from Mount Victory, Ohio, while Telles hails from Sylmar, Calif. and has started all but one game in her career. Meanwhile Hughes suffered an ACL tear as a freshman and is a fifth year senior who will leave with a master's degree. Loesing is from Grapevine, Texas, and has been one of the most improved players over her career. Spurlock is a Huntington native, while Bennett and Lara are in their swansongs after joining the program as Junior College transfers last season.
Marshall is 31-20 on the season and 12-9 in C-USA play. The Herd is coming off a disappointing series at East Carolina, where the Pirates took two of three. UCF is 15-6 in league play and an impressive 39-13 overall.
It's a senior class that has been through a rebuilding process with the program. As freshmen, the squad got to 30 wins and fell in the C-USA tournament semifinals to Tulsa in El Paso, Texas. After two subpar years, the team is back to a 30-win squad.
Telles has been the starting shortstop for Marshall since arriving on campus, and is hitting .311 with four homers and 24 RBI. She's been through the rebuilding process, playing with virtually two completely different groups of players.
It is that perspective from the middle infield that Telles said has made her Marshall experience unique.
"Not many people get that opportunity," Telles said of the immediate playing time at a difficult position. "Playing with two separate groups was interesting and really a learning experience.
"I mainly played with Marcena (Bertoldo) (as a freshman) and really learned to click with her well. That's always a key to the middle infield."
There has been a lack of stability at second base the last three years, however, until this season.
"In the last group, we have switched second basemen several times," Telles said. "This year I've really been comfortable and clicked with Ashley Gue (junior) and we turned out to be a great set of middle infielders."
Telles credits her durability of nearly 200 starts to good training.
"I haven't done anything really special except do treatment when I need it to prevent bigger injuries from happening," Telles said. "When we run and workout, I just try to stay in shape as best I can."
It's been a breakout season for Gamby, Loesing, Gue and junior first baseman Alysia Hively, who are all having career best seasons at the plate. Telles said seeing first hand the extra work the group has collectively put in pay off is a direct endorsement of their work ethic.
"Every player that has had a breakout year, I feel like we have done extra work at one point or another in the season, whether it was staying after practice to take grounders or coming in on the off days to do stuff," Telles said.
"I'm not sure it really has hit me yet that this is it for my time at the Dot and my career here at Marshall. I'm excited to be where I'm at, and excited for the weekend. It's really a bittersweet feeling going through my head right now."
Bennett was a JUCO All-American pitcher who lead Miami Dade to a national championship in 2010. She has settled in as Marshall's No. 3 pitcher, being used mostly in pressure situations to keep the team in games long enough to allow the offense to settle. This role has led to Bennett being called on to eat up some innings and put out some fires. The Hereford, Ariz. native is 4-1 this season with a 2.26 ERA. She has made 15 appearances, 12 of which have come out of the bullpen.
Knowing her role is to be ready when called upon, which could be at anytime, is one that requires mental strength. Bennett said confidence is key to get through the difficult times.
"Throughout my career, I've pitched through many situations," Bennett said. "I have learned to always be confident and believe in myself.
"Everytime I go down to the bullpen, I usually have a nervous feeling in me, but it's a good one. I make sure I have the right mindset because when I go out there, it's to help my teammates," Bennett said.
"I don't stress if my pitches don't work as well in the bullpen because I know I have it. I feel stronger in the game. I think 'this is my time,' that I have one shot and I go out there as if its my last."
Hughes was recruited for her speed and outfield play. Tearing her ACL could have been devastating, but Hughes has worked hard to get back her game. An ACL tear is especially critical to a slap hitter, as the hitter is generally in motion when the ball is put into play. The nature of the injury doesn't allow for much game-simulation in rehab, due to the torque put on the body to turn to first on contact on the run.
Hughes is hitting .295 with two doubles, two triples, and eight runs batted in. She's also 21-of-24 in stolen bases on the season, good enough for third on the team. All of those numbers suggest the speedster's hard work has paid off. Perhaps most impressive: She has struck out just seven times in 105 plate appearances, and her speed doesn't show in her batting average. She's reached base safely several times because of the pressure her speed has caused fielders, who have committed errors.
It's safe to say, the injury four years ago is not slowing her down anymore.
"I was scared about the recovery process," Hughes said. "That I would not be the same player I was before the injury. I love being fast and stealing bases and worked hard to ensure I would get my speed back.
"It was all about mentally overcoming the fear that I might hurt my knee again. Once I was able to do that, it was all out, all the time."
Hughes has shown some pop in the bat of late. She tripled over the centerfielder against Tulsa three weeks ago, and lined a double off the top of the wall against Longwood two weeks ago. That ball nearly went out, and Hughes visibly held her hands on top of her head, knowing she had just missed her first career homerun.
"I was so excited to hit the wall but so sad it couldn't have just gone over," Hughes said. "So close, yet so far."
That additional strength makes her more difficult to defend. Teams can not cheat in as tight against the speedy Hughes now that she has shown the ability to hit over shallow outfielders.
"Adding power to my game was something I have really worked on, so that I could be more effective as a slapper," Hughes said. "It has always been my goal to be a triple threat where I can utilize the bunt, slap, and power slap."
Combined, the seven seniors have set the program on solid ground moving forward, but they're not done. One last hurrah against rival UCF could leave the seniors exiting Dot Hicks Field Sunday with the No. 3 seed in the league heading into the Conference tournament in Birmingham.
Ryan Epling is an analyst with Herd Nation. Comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged on the Old Fairfield forum.