By BRAD KELLY
SU sophomore pitcher Shannon Powell winds up for a pitch from the circle earlier this season. Amy Wojtowicz photo
What: Christopher Newport University at Salisbury University softball
Where: Sea Gull Softball Stadium
When: Saturday Apr. 8 at 1:30/3:30
How to Watch: Sea Gulls Sports Network
Salisbury: The Sea Gulls are 8-2 over there last 10 games, bringing their record to 17-13 on the season. They are 6-2 in Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) play, slotting them third in the conference. A Salisbury sweep in the doubleheader would mean a tie for top spot in the CAC between the Captains and the Sea Gulls.
Offense: Salisbury has hit the ball pretty well as a team this season, holding a .311 batting average collectively. Their offense will continue to be spearheaded by junior outfielder LeAnne Collins, who is hitting a cool .485 out of the lead-off spot.
Collins leads the attack, but someone has to knock her in. Junior infielder Annie Pietanza has taken the role as the team’s cleanup hitter posting a .438 AVG while knocking in 34 RBI. In two one-run games this week, Pietanza crossing home plate has made the difference for a Sea Gull victory. If Salisbury plans to come out on top, these two will have to continue to lead the charge.
Pitching: One of the largest storylines these last few weeks is the Salisbury pitching. Three consecutive shutouts, all coming against conference opponents, has propelled the team as they continue to push for a postseason berth.
Sophomore pitcher Shannon Powell has emerged as the team’s ace as she sits with a 2.75 earned run average over 61 innings and seven starts. She was brilliant in her last two starts especially, tossing 14 innings of shutout ball while walking no one and striking out 10.
Not to be out done, junior pitcher Rachael Milligan sprinkled in a shutout of her own, striking out seven while only surrendering three hits.
Player to Watch: Sophomore pitcher Shannon Powell
Either Powell or Milligan could go here as the Gulls will need both to sweep the double dip vs. CNU, but Powell is firing on all cylinders right now. She looks to be attacking the zone and mixing her pitches well, giving her the arsenal to shut down the hot CNU bats.
Christopher Newport: The Captains are blistering hot right now, currently in the middle of a seven-game win streak. They are 23-7 on the year and remain undefeated in the conference with an 8-0 record. The team will enter the weekend doubleheader fresh off sweeping Mary Washington in two games earlier this week.
Offense: The Captains are currently hitting .353 as a team while also notching a .424 on base percentage and a .511 slugging percentage. CNU is able to post these rates thanks to their deep lineup with six of their seven every-day players are posting at least a .375 AVG.
Junior shortstop Rachael Payne sets the table for the offense as she leads the team with a .456 AVG and a .537 OPS. The top RBI producer for CNU is senior first baseman Jenna Sprinkle who leads the team with 28. In terms of power, the Gulls will have to be careful against junior outfielder Leah Andrews, who leads the team with five homers.
Pitching: CNU has three starters with a sub-3.62 ERA, so they have plenty of options to turn to this weekend. But, the ace of the Captains’ staff, is freshman Aubrey Bates who owns a 1.72 over 13 starts this season.
Behind Bates, are two effective arms in senior pitcher Tara Heatwhole who has a 3.24 ERA over nine starts and senior pitcher Maiven McKnight who owns a 3.61 ERA over nine starts as well.
Player to Watch: Junior shortstop Rachael Payne
The Captains lead the CAC in runs scored for a reason, and Payne is the catalyst. Salisbury will have to keep her off the bases in order to slow the CNU offense and to not let the Captains jump out to an early lead.