Kaia Oliver Provides Much-Needed Depth for SU Pitching Staff
By Sam Lebowitz
CitrusTV Softball Beat Reporter
The SU softball team scored four runs in the fifth inning to jump out to a 5-1 lead against Michigan State in the final game of the Felsberg Invitational this past weekend. In the bottom half of the frame, left-hander Alexa Romero allowed the first three Spartans of the inning to reach base off a walk and two infield singles. At that moment, head coach Shannon Doepking faced her first big decision of the season.
Doepking opted to switch out Romero with the bases loaded, the top of the Michigan State lineup walking up to the plate, and the tying run in the batter’s box. In came Freshman Kaia Oliver, who had started and pitched well in the previous day’s 2-1 loss to FIU.
It took Oliver just 12 pitches to work out the jam and protect the lead. She struck out her first opponent before inducing two ground balls, the first of which resulted in a force out at home plate.
Oliver’s success through her first two outings, giving up just two runs with no walks, will certainly make Doepking’s job easier with more depth on the pitch staff. Last season, Romero threw nearly 45% of the team’s total innings in Doepking’s first year as head coach. After Sunday’s game, she said that is going to change this year.
“We’re gonna be a staff this year. We’re not gonna rely on one arm,” said Doepking. “Everyone needs to be ready.”
Kaia Oliver was ready to heed the call on Sunday. Just a day after taking a hard-luck loss, she prevented the Spartan’s offense from making a comeback.
“That was a big moment for a freshman to go in with the bases loaded,” Doepking said.
Oliver can earn more big moments down the road as the Syracuse roster only has four pitchers listed with Alexa Romero and Miranda Hearn as the only two returning arms.
Romero still figures to get the lion’s share of innings. She won 13 of SU’s 21 victories last year and remains most decorated arm to wear orange since Jenny Caira graduated in 2012. Her inconsistent 2019 paled in comparison to her absolutely dominant first two seasons. However, the success of freshmen like Oliver and Catie Dobbs will go a long way towards taking some of the pressure off Romero’s shoulders and deciding the type of success the Orange have in 2020.
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