Syracuse Rides ‘Boom or Bust’ Play into Conference Games
By Sam Lebowitz
CitrusTV’s Softball Beat Reporter
With February turning over to March, the college softball season enters its second month. For Syracuse, that means the beginning of ACC play is fast approaching. The Orange will head to Chapel Hill next weekend to square off with the rival Tar Heels and kick off their conference schedule. Let’s take a look at how Shannon Doepking’s squad has fared so far in 2020.
At the moment, Syracuse is coming off of their most successful weekend of the year. They went down to Tampa for the USF Tournament, and came away with a 3-2 record and the tournament title. The Orange took down the hosting USF Bulls in the finals to take the crown. The winning weekend boosted ‘Cuse’s record to 8-9 overall. The record is indicative of a level of inconsistency that has plagued the Orange through the first month.
Syracuse’s inconsistency has actually showed up in an oddly consistent way as Syracuse has played six doubleheaders this season and split five of them. All but one of those splits have occurred with a win followed by a loss, rather than vice-versa. At this point, the team doesn’t quite know exactly who they are; they’ve got an identity problem. They’ve rattled off a win against a ranked team, Texas Tech, but also taken bad losses like their 7-3 trouncing at the hands of a 5-13 Texas A&M Corpus Christi team.
The erratic nature of Syracuse’s early season is probably best explained by their equally confusing pitching staff. Look no further than the team’s ace Alexa Romero. The left-hander’s 4-2 record and 3.00 earned run average indicates a successful beginning to her season, and she has been solid. She was especially good this weekend, as she struck out 27 batters over 16 innings. Yet she still has not been the dominant ace she has been in the past. She’s given up four runs or more in five of her outings already. Syracuse has won just one of those five games.
Romero has also faced command issues, posting a K/BB ratio of 2.50. In her career-best 2018 season, Romero was striking out 4.55 batters per every walk. However, Romero posted consecutive outings this weekend without walking a batter. Improved command would go a long way toward her regaining her past form.
On the offensive side, Syracuse has been plagued by underperformance and inconsistency as well. Take AJ Kaiser for instance. Kaiser led the team in home runs last season with seven, and, at 5’10”, has by far the most raw power on the team. But she through the first 13 of Syracuse’s 15 games, she was a non-factor. She broke out in the final two games this weekend with four hits, including two homers, but prior to that she could not buy a hit. Before a three-hit day on Saturday, Kaiser’s batting average had dropped to a miniscule .139. These big couple of days have raised her average to .214 and given her a share of the team lead in runs batted in with 11.
Elsewhere on the offensive side, freshman Rebecca Clyde has seen her average dip below the Mendoza Line at .196 after a raging start. After hitting .348 in her first seven contests, Shannon Doepking slid her into the cleanup spot, but she is mired in a 1-for-28 stretch with ten strikeouts since. Alex Acevedo, who was a big part of Doepking’s offense last year, has hit just .156 so far and has seen her playing time diminish in favor of freshman Mia Cunnings.
The most consistent offensive players have been juniors Gabby Teran and Neli Casares-Maher, who routinely bat second and third in the order, respectively. Casares-Maher has seven extra-base hits in 49 at bats and has driven home nine runs while hitting .306. Teran, the most well-regarded position player on the roster heading into the season, has hit .281 with the most home runs on the team with three, tied with Kaiser, and the most stolen bases on the team with eight.
Overall, the Orange need more consistency from their key players in order to be successful in a competitive ACC. We’ll see what adjustments they’ll make when they line up with the Tar Heels on Friday at 6 p.m.
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