Redhawks win slugfest

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Southeast Missouri State softball coach Lana Richmond said before the season that this was one of the best freshmen groups she has had.

Two of those youngsters displayed their talents Tuesday as the Redhawks (11-8) rallied to post a 10-6 non-conference victory over visiting Wright State (4-3).

Michelle Summers belted a game-tying grand slam as part of a six-run fourth inning that wiped out an early 6-0 deficit, and local product Megan McDonald went 3-for-3 with two doubles.

"I knew these freshmen were good," said Richmond, in her 23rd season at Southeast.

Summers is the Redhawks' mighty mite. The 5-foot-1 Californian's home run well over the left-field fence was her third homer in the past two games and team-leading fourth of the season -- which is more than any Southeast player had all of last year.

And Summers said she is as surprised as anybody by her sudden long-ball prowess.

"I hit one home run in my whole high school career," said Summers, from Glendale, Calif. "I don't know why I'm hitting home runs now. I wish I knew."

Summers, a right fielder who bats leadoff, is hitting .294 while tying for first on the squad in doubles with five and ranking second in runs batted in with 11.

"I didn't expect to play [as a freshman]. Even playing is just a privilege," said Summers, who has started all 19 games so far this season.

Summers was also a bit wary of coming halfway across the country to attend college, but she said Southeast gave her the best scholarship offer.

"At first I was kind of skeptical to come this far away," she said. "But they gave me a chance to play."

McDonald doesn't have to travel very far to attend Southeast, as she grew up in Cape Girardeau and was a standout all-around athlete at Central High School.

Like Summers, McDonald -- a second baseman who has also started all 19 games -- didn't expect to receive so much playing time so soon. But, like Summers, she has adapted well to the college game, batting .327 with five doubles, one homer and six RBIs.

"It's very unexpected," she said. "I figured to just work hard, and then next year I would get my shot."

Said Richmond: "Michelle is picking out some good pitches to hit, and I think [Southeast strength and conditioning coach] Paul Helsel has made a big difference, helping her get stronger. And Mac is just doing a great job."

Several other freshmen have also made their mark, including pitcher Elaine Fisher from St. Peters, Mo., and shortstop Ashley Robison from Sparta, Ill.

Fisher is 2-2 with a 3.00 earned-run average, and Tuesday she worked 2 1/3 innings of solid relief, allowing one run and one hit.

Robison, while struggling offensively so far, has started 17 games.

"I feel like it's one of the top freshmen groups we've had," Richmond said.

The Redhawks needed more than their freshmen, however, to battle back Tuesday after the Raiders scored five runs -- just two earned -- in the second inning to knock out starter Amy Fahnestock. Wright State added a run in the third to lead 6-0.

Southeast's big fourth inning -- featuring five hits, including Summers' slam -- forged a 6-6 deadlock, which is the way things stood entering the bottom of the sixth.

The Redhawks then exploded with four runs. Pinch-hitter Callie Brittan led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Melissa Van Velkinburgh.

Summers was intentionally walked and Victoria Torrez singled to plate Brittan with the go-ahead run. Summers scored on a wild pitch, then Kelly Birk and McDonald both delivered RBI doubles.

Torrez, Birk and Stephanie Huffman all had two of Southeast's 12 hits. Huffman (3-2) was the winning pitcher with 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, allowing one hit.

"Coming back from 6-0 in softball is very hard to do. We had some big hits," Richmond said. "But I was very disappointed with the way we started out. We had four errors, which is very uncharacteristic of our team."

Richmond was happy that the game was even played at all. Heavy rain overnight and most of the morning would have rendered most fields unplayable, but Southeast was able to get its in order as Wright State was already in town.

"We've got a new tarp, where we can cover the whole field, including the outfield," Richmond said. "And our maintenance crew did a great job."

Despite the possibility of more rain, Southeast hopes to play again today as Belmont is scheduled to visit for a 2 p.m. non-league doubleheader.

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