Softball

Out of the 2 hole, Alicia Hansen improves plate discipline

Eddie Natal | Staff Photographer

Alicia Hansen has been able to set the table consistently for the Orange offense.

With the bases loaded and one out, Alicia Hansen sent a fly ball to deep center field. The sacrifice sent a runner home and put Syracuse up 3-2 against Elon in the bottom of the sixth inning. With the bases loaded, the sac fly was not the grand slam players dream about, but Hansen’s play decided the contest anyway.

“I think that that was really good for me,” Hansen said, “because I really did struggle with hits, but I got it when it mattered.”

Without flashy numbers, Hansen has quietly produced one of the best offensive seasons for the Orange. Despite her .244 batting average, Hansen consistently gets on, posting an on-base percentage of .364. Out of the two hole in the SU lineup, the sophomore infielder sits fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference with nine walks and ranks among Syracuse’s (9-5) top three in RBI, runs scored and stolen bases.

The biggest reason for her solid start is her improved plate discipline. Her biggest weakness became her strongest asset.

“She was a swinger,” Syracuse head coach Mike Bosch said. “She would swing at almost anything.”

As a freshman, Hansen batted .213 and had an on-base percentage of only .277. Hansen struck out only 20 times in 136 at-bats last year. But she couldn’t manage to get hits. She chased balls low and outside, resulting in poor slap grounders that made for easy outs, and watched inside pitches get called for strikes. Hansen finished last season with eight more strikeouts (20) than walks (12).

Hansen continues struggling to lift the ball because she rolls over the ball with her bat. In doing this, she’s hitting the ball down, not square on. The difference between this year and last year is her pitch selection.

“Every walk is just an extra base runner that you might not have had if you swung at a bad pitch,” she said.

Through 14 games this year, Hansen is three walks away from tying her season total from all of last year, and she has more than doubled her walk rate in 2017 (20 percent) from last year. Her newfound discipline has proved advantageous for Syracuse, seeing more pitches while working the pitcher’s pitch count.

“We see through her in a way,” said sophomore utility infielder Bryce Holmgren, who hits two spots behind Hansen in the lineup. “Having her at the top of the lineup is really beneficial to us because we are able to see more pitches because she sees more pitches.”

Once she gets on, Hansen is dangerous around the base paths. Despite sitting fifth on the team with 11 hits, Hansen ranks second in runs scored (12) and steals (three). The only player above her in both categories is Syracuse’s leadoff hitter, Sammy Fernandez, who currently bats .439, nearly .200 points above Hansen. Yet Hansen trails Fernandez by only one run and one steal.

“You like to have those people at the top of the order,” Bosch said.

Hansen’s improved plate discipline has earned her more hitting reps in practice, too. If players either swing at a ball or don’t swing a strike, they lose their turn in batting practice. Hansen said the drill keeps her on high alert, so she can replicate that same focus during games. It’s helped her emerge as one of the team’s better situational hitters.

Against Elon, all Hansen needed to do was get the ball to the outfield. Instead of swinging for the fences at any pitch, as she has in years past, Hansen waited for the right pitch and knocked a deep fly ball to straightaway center for the game-winning run.

“A lot of the time we talk about what it means to have a quality at-bat and what it means to have a team at-bat,” Holmgren said. “And for us, that’s not necessarily having the highest batting average … She needs to just keep having team at-bats and doing the little things because that’s what translates to runs.”

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