Comfort zone - Piantino finds hitting stroke for Otahkians

Thursday, April 18, 2002

Dawn Piantino says she has always been able to hit, so the Southeast Missouri State University softball player figured it was just a matter of time before she broke out at the plate.

That time has finally come. Although the Otahkians (9-22) are headed to their worst record ever under 20-year coach Lana Richmond, Piantino is putting together an all-star-type senior season.

"It's my senior year, so I've got nothing to lose," the good-natured Piantino said with a smile prior to Wednesday's practice. "I'm just going out and having fun."

For Piantino, fun means leading the Otahkians in virtually every offensive category. Her .304 batting average is tops on the team for players with more than 55 at-bats, and she leads the squad outright in runs (17), hits (28), doubles (9), home runs (2), runs batted in (12), walks (11), total bases (43) and slugging percentage (.467).

That's a far cry from her first three seasons at Southeast, when she hit a combined .211, including .208 last year in her first season as a full-time regular.

"Last year was frustrating, not doing as well as I knew I could perform," Piantino said. "But I knew I could hit. I was a good hitter in high school. Sometimes it just clicks and this year it's right on."

Piantino can pinpoint nothing she is doing particularly differently at the plate.

"I worked out a lot over the summer and I just think I'm more mature," she said. "Things have just been going well."

Piantino has also thrived since moving back to her natural position of shortstop after playing third base for much of her Southeast career. Piantino has played shortstop almost flawlessly, said Richmond, and having just four errors indicates as much.

"Dawn hasn't missed a beat moving to shortstop," Richmond said. "She's been really solid offensively and defensively, and this is a kid who didn't really play very much until her junior year. It's great to see her doing this. You always like to see your seniors go out with a really good season."

Said Piantino, "Shortstop has always been my natural position. Moving to third was hard, but I got used to it. It was a struggle at first this year moving back to short, but I'm glad to be back there. I love being the leader on the field and shortstop is just easy for me."

A native of the Chicago suburb of Bartlett, Ill., Piantino has also excelled in the classroom as she has been a Southeast Scholar Athlete and a member of the Ohio Valley Conference Commissioner's Honor Roll. The athletic training major eventually hopes to be a physical therapist.

"I love sports and this way I'll get to stay involved with sports," she said.

Before she gets on with her career, however, Piantino is intent on helping the Otahkians make a late-season surge. Perennial OVC power Southeast is in seventh place in the eight-team league entering today's game at Eastern Illinois and only the top six squads qualify for the conference tournament.

"It's been really frustrating," Piantino said of the team's struggles. "It's just inexperience. We're just a young team this year and we don't have all the components working together.

"But I think as long as we make it to the (OVC) tournament, every team will be afraid of us. We're definitely a team to be reckoned with."

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