By Sam Draut–
With sole possession of second place in the ACC on the line, the University of Louisville softball team started the bottom half of the first inning against Virginia Tech looking to score first after starting pitcher Maryssa Becker sat down three hitters in the top of half of the inning.
It didn’t take long for coach Sandy Pearsall’s team to plate a run as the lineup’s “spark plug” found a way on base, and eventually scored. Leadoff hitter Sidney Melton has been the table setter for a lineup that has manufacturered its runs more times than not. Pearsall openly says her team doesn’t rely on home runs, so it all starts with Melton and a small-ball approach.
The 5-foot-7 sophomore goes up to the plate with one job: get on base to score runs.
Melton is third on the team with a .370 batting average while leading the Cardinals in runs scored and stolen bases.
Once Melton reaches base, two of the best hitters in the ACC, Maryssa Becker and Megan Hensley, along with her speed, can help bring the Columbus, Ohio native around the base paths. Becker is leading the ACC with 46 RBI and has hit seven home runs while Hensley has 11 home runs and 40 RBI.
“When I get in the box, I think the game goes how I go, and if I get on, we are definitely going to score first because I have so much confidence in Maryssa (Becker) and Megan (Hensley) because they are massive power hitters,” Melton said.
While Becker and Hensley provide the power in the Louisville lineup, Melton has adopted a slap hitting approach that pairs well with her speed as she stands from the left side of the batter’s box. Pearsall wanted Melton to become a slap hitter as a freshman, but she was “kind of resistant” to picking up the technique in her first season of collegiate softball.
After at first resisting Pearsall’s desire for her to become a slap hitter, Melton fell into a cold spell which led her to adopting the swing.
“It was a little slump I was having, some hand paths weren’t the same, I was pulling off when I was hitting away,” Melton said. “She (Pearsall) said ‘slapping looks better’ and it feels better, so she was right. So I have kind of stuck with it.”
After Melton begins to move forward in the batter’s box and make contact with the ball, her speed becomes her greatest advantage. Even when ground balls are fielded by shortstops and third basemen, the catch, transfer and throw are rushed because of Melton’s speed. To score Louisville’s first run against Virginia Tech on Saturday, Melton reached safely on an error by the shortstop.
“There will be times I don’t hit the ball solid, they will be mishits, for most people they would be outs,” Melton said. “But for me, I’m lucky enough that they are hits.”
And once Melton reaches base, she tries to be “smart and aggressive.” She has yet to be thrown out on a stolen base attempt this season, currently a perfect 12 for 12.
“She has great speed and she runs the bases extremely well, she picks up on mistakes by the other team,” Pearsall said.
Though Melton has become the team’s starting shortstop, she didn’t start the season in the infield. Melton played the first two tournaments of the season in the outfield before moving to her natural position. She played shortstop for all four years of high school softball and feels “most comfortable” playing the spot. Melton practiced at second base before becoming the Cardinals everyday shortstop.
“I like it, I’m used to it, I have spent most of my career there,” Melton said. “I feel like my comfort zone is in the dirt.”
As Louisville competes in the ACC, Melton will be atop the lineup trying to find ways on base to get the Cardinals offensive attack going.
“She has really been a great player for us this year,” Pearsall said. “If we get her on, that is how we score. When she isn’t getting on, we aren’t as successful of a team.”
Photo by Sam Draut / The Louisville Cardinal