Slap hitters provide key to Illinois success

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Slap hitters provide key to Illinois success

Illinois first baseman Alyssa Gunther gets ready to catch the ball during game two of the series against Nebraska at Eichelberger Field on Saturday, April 2.

Illinois first baseman Alyssa Gunther gets ready to catch the ball during game two of the series against Nebraska at Eichelberger Field on Saturday, April 2.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois first baseman Alyssa Gunther gets ready to catch the ball during game two of the series against Nebraska at Eichelberger Field on Saturday, April 2.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois first baseman Alyssa Gunther gets ready to catch the ball during game two of the series against Nebraska at Eichelberger Field on Saturday, April 2.

By Erich Fisher, Staff writer

While slap hitting might not be considered a flashy play, it is underappreciated and valuable to a softball team’s success.

The hitting technique is defined as a batter who runs at the pitcher as she swings while trying to hit it to the left side of the field. The runner then tries to utilize her speed to get on base.

The Illinois softball team has been successful so far at utilizing this style. The Illini’s primary slap hitters have a combined batting average of .322 and an on-base percentage of .364.

“They work together really well; they understand what their jobs are and that’s just to put the ball in play,” said Illinois head coach Tyra Perry. “They also have the ability to swing if they need to, and that keeps the defense guessing and off balance.”

Senior Alyssa Gunther leads the Illini’s group of slap hitters. The first baseman from Tinley Park, Ill., is having a strong individual performance this year at the plate. She’s batting .331 with an on-base percentage of .412. The senior also has 43 hits on the season.

Gunther said she has learned a lot about herself as a slap hitter over her years on the team.

“You learn that if you have more speed, then you can do bunts or chop slaps, but for me personally, I’m not as fast of a slapper, so I prefer to power slap,” Gunther said. “It’s about knowing yourself and your abilities.”

Power slapping players swing harder, looking for line drives instead of grounders while running at the ball. While Gunther is more of a power slapper, junior Sam Acosta said that she focuses more on just making contact when she slap hits.

“(I’ve) just been focusing on putting the ball in play and making teams make a play. So far, it’s been working,” Acosta said. “We have those big hitters in our lineup, so it’s nice to mix it up.”

Acosta is having a solid season at the plate, batting .286 with an on-base percentage of .310.

Perry credited her slappers’ success so far this season to their ability to feed off one another —something that is easy to do when they are so close to each other in the lineup.

Acosta and junior Leigh Farina bat seventh and eighth in the lineup, respectively, while sophomore Kiana Sherlund and Gunther bat first and second, respectively.

By the second or third inning, the slap hitters bat practically back-to-back. This sets the table perfectly for Illinois’ power hitters like senior Nicole Evans and sophomore Stephanie Abello, who are batting a combined .360 with 25 home runs and 79 RBIs on the season.

“They feed off each other, and they play team ball,” Perry said. “They like to pass the bat around, and that has been a big key for us.”

One reason Gunther feels the slap hitters have been successful this season is their control at the plate. Their ability to put the ball wherever and whenever they want has given them an advantage this year.

Gunther will be looking to connect on her ideal slap hit through the left side of the infield when they face off against Wisconsin in the first game of a three-game home set, starting April 28.

“I’m a very calm and relaxed player, and I try to feed that off to other people,” Gunther said. “We just try to have the same mentality going into every game and that’s play Illini softball.”

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