SB : Orange hitters flourish under King’s tutelage

first_imgSyracuse outfielder Lisaira Daniels has nicknames for the dumpster-shaped pitching machine and stick-figured wooden bat that lie at opposite ends of the team’s batting cage inside Manley Field House.The pitching machine is ‘Big Momma.’‘She’s so big, and we’re constantly enslaved to the chore she places in front of us,’ Daniels said of batting practice.The bat, on the other hand, is ‘Big Daddy’ because of its size and weight.If the machine and bat serve as the parents of SU’s batting cage, associate head coach Wally King serves as its guiding voice.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textNow in his third season on head coach Leigh Ross’s staff after being brought over from Division III Trine University in Angola, Ind., King is the primary reason behind the development of SU’s powerful offense. It’s an offense that has broken out quite unexpectedly after pitching was the team’s strength last season.After 29 games, SU leads the Big East in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. In its last eight games, SU is averaging 10 runs per game. All of which has contributed to a 24-5 overall record and a perfect 3-0 start to conference play.‘I don’t think there’s a better teacher as far as hitting as Coach King,’ Ross said. ‘Most of these girls have had three years under him, and you can tell because they’re in that cage all the time, whether with him or on their own.’Though the results are shining through in 2011, the development has been anything but rapid. One year prior to King’s arrival, in 2008, SU finished the season third to last in the Big East in team batting average (.253) and last in runs (163). But since his arrival, the Orange finished no lower than fifth in either category over the past two years.Prior to the start of the 2011 season, the SU coaching staff made hitting its primary point of focus, with a specific goal of bringing out the versatile slap and power-hitting talents they believed each of their hitters possessed.‘We don’t have a lot of large-group or full-team practices this year,’ King said. ‘I spend eight, nine, 10 hours a day bringing one or two kids into the cage every hour for individual sessions.’His players are buying in, and the personalized attention is paying off. First baseman Kelly Saco is one of four Orange players — along with Rachel Helman, Lacey Kohl and Stephanie Watts — to raise her batting average (through 29 games) by at least 70 points from her 2010 total. Saco, Watts and Kohl all have more home runs and as many RBI through 29 games in 2011 than they did during the entire 58-game 2010 season.In 2010, SU had just three players who hit over .300. This season, it has eight. In 2010, the Orange had just one player who hit more than five home runs. This season, it already has four.‘Every hitter has different weaknesses to correct,’ Saco said. ‘I struggled hitting inside pitches last year, so we really focused hard on opening my stance.’King said the eye-popping improvements are a direct result of better plate discipline.‘Anytime you have a team batting average around .300, a .400 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage over .500, you’re going to be putting a lot of people on base regardless of your batting order,’ King said.Such remarkable plate discipline is a result of the SU lineup making good on King’s favorite hitting principle. He stresses fighting through an at-bat until the pitcher makes a mistake, and then pummeling it.King mentioned a particular at-bat last weekend in Syracuse’s 10-2 victory over Rutgers in which catcher Kohl did exactly what he wants hitters to do. She fouled off three straight pitches on the outside corner before lashing a home run ‘250 feet over the dead centerfield fence.’The solo home run was the second of three Syracuse bombs in a four-run top of the third inning that opened up a 4-1 Orange lead. But it was also another example of the instant dangers that such a versatile lineup can provide for opposing pitching staffs.King and his players know the best start in program history doesn’t mean the hitters are perfect. There is always more to work on and always more that can be corrected.‘It all goes back to repetition in the batting cage alone with Coach King,’ Daniels said. ‘And Big Momma and Big Daddy, of course.’[email protected] Published on March 30, 2011 at 12:00 pm Contact Jarrad: [email protected] Commentscenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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