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SMC Softball: Playoff hopes gone, Belles to play spoiler

Chris Masoud | Thursday, April 23, 2009

Saint Mary’s will be playing in unfamiliar territory on Saturday when they travel to Trine University to close out the 2009 MIAA regular season. Under fourth-year head coach Erin Sullivan, the Belles have never played a season finale free of playoff implications.

Saint Mary’s (22-10, 6-6 MIAA) went on a tear to start the regular season, sweeping its first two opponents in back-to-back doubleheaders and winning 6 of its first 8 games. But after a lackluster week that saw the Belles drop four straight against perennial powerhouses Hope and Adrian, they were virtually eliminated from playoff contention.

“We’ve never known when our last game was, so this is a bit of an odd year for us,” Sullivan said. “But we’ve adjusted well and we know that we can be spoiler on Saturday. They always play well against Trine.”

Although the playoff-exiled Belles cannot knock top-ranked Trine (26-8, 10-2) out of postseason play, they can still drop the Thunder’s No. 1 seed to as low as No. 3. Trine is coming off a doubleheader split against Adrian on Thursday, dropping the first game by a score of 2-0 and holding on to a 7-5 victory in the second.

Freshman standouts Monica Palicki and Angela Gillis are slated to start on the bump for the Belles, as they look to complete their sensational collegiate debuts on a high note. Palicki will bring a 2.98 ERA and an opponent’s batting average of .259 into the first game, while Gillis seeks to add to her team-leading 12 wins, 29 strikeouts and 2.08 ERA.

“We have a really good rivalry going on with them for the last couple of years and I know they’re really excited,” Sullivan said. “The seniors want to end on a good note, and the freshmen haven’t seen Trine yet, so they want to see what’s so great about them and come out strong.”

The Belles will need strong performances at the plate up and down the lineup to upset the MIAA’s best team on paper. Junior All-American Ashley Peterson looks to improve upon her .480 batting average, .810 slugging percentage and five home runs, each of which is good enough for second overall in the league.

But Saint Mary’s will have to contend with a stingy Thunder pitching staff that has slashed its opponent’s batting average to .253 against right-handers and its ERA to 2.56. Nevertheless, Sullivan said she is confident in her squad’s ability to adjust from one at bat to the next.

“We’re not going to change anything specific,” Sullivan said. “We know their pitchers. They move the ball a lot, throw a lot of dropped balls. We’ll move up in the box, catch it early, and hit the ball before it breaks.”

Saint Mary’s will take the field for the last time this year Saturday at 1 p.m. at Trine University Softball Field.