Neli Casares-Maher’s quiet leadership and return from injury boosts Syracuse’s lineup

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ In the top of the eighth inning against Louisville on March 17, Head Coach Shannon Doepking challenged her shortstop, Neli Casares-Maher.“Do you want this at-bat?” Doepking asked after walking up to her.Casares-Maher accepted: “I want it.”Before that interaction, Doepking said she would sub the shortstop out in extra innings with the Cardinals and Orange tied at two. At the time, Casares-Maher was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. But Doepking listened to the sophomore, who stepped into the box and hit the fourth pitch off the left field wall for a leadoff double. Hannah Dossett doubled in Caseras-Maher later in the inning and the Orange won 4-2.Casares-Maher is one of the quieter players in the Syracuse locker room, multiple players said, but those three words — “I want it” — represent her “lead by example” attitude toward softball.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe shortshop has missed 14 games in 2019, and Syracuse has scrambled its defense and lineup to replace her. Within a week of her return to the middle of SU’s lineup on April 19, Casares-Maher hit two home runs in a win over Binghamton last Tuesday. The Orange’s offense scored just nine runs in the four games prior to her return, but has rebounded to average more than six runs per game with the shortstop.Amy Nakamura | Senior Design Editor“She doesn’t say much,” Doepking said on March 20. “It’s hard to get her kind of get a read on where she’s at. Somebody with her caliber of athleticism, she’s super competitive … she’s uber-talented.”At a national softball tournament two weeks before coming to Syracuse, Casares-Maher collided with three other players in the infield and broke her foot.It was the first of multiple injuries that would set Casares-Maher back. In her freshman year at SU, she missed 19 games from a strained quad. Entering 2019, Casares-Maher played the first 26 games of the season before straining her calf against Boston College on March 23.Growing up in Orange, California, no one in her family played softball. Her closest older sibling, 28-year-old Tiffany, played soccer. Casares-Maher tried to join in, but soccer wasn’t for her — Casares-Maher preferred softball. Her parents didn’t know much about softball, but they signed her up for a co-ed league, and Casares-Maher started when she was five years old.“This little quiet girl who idolized her older siblings wanted to have her own identity,” her mother Sharon said.Unlike central New York, where former SU head coach Mike Bosch once said there are about “three good months” of softball, California regards softball as a year-round sport. Her tee ball team practiced once a week, but Casares-Maher constantly asked her parents to go to the field and practice. Her parents would spend time in the outfield, shagging balls as Casares-Maher hit them.Casares-Maher attended Mater Dei High School in California, a few miles from her home. As a freshman, Sharon said that Casares-Maher was under five feet tall. She was “skinny, tiny, little,” yet she finished high school with a .460 batting average.When the time came to find a college, Casares-Maher looked at schools exclusively on the east coast.“I wanted a new experience,” Casares-Maher said. “Coming here to this program brought something completely new, but there aren’t that many big adjustments.”Before coming to Syracuse, Casares-Maher and her mother, father, step-father and sister rented an RV to drive across the country. After dropping Casares-Maher off at SU, they planned to spend multiple weeks touring the country. Instead, they went straight home and Sharon cried the entire trip home.When Casares-Maher joined Syracuse alongside second baseman Gabby Teran, Syracuse started two freshman infielders. With Sammy Fernandez at shortstop, Casares-Maher spent most of her healthy time last season at third base. In 31 games last season, she hit .241 and had just six extra-base hits.Now under Doepking, in Casares-Maher’s second season, Casares-Maher has started 34 games, with a .284 average and a .930 OPS, second-highest of regular players. Only Alexis Kaiser has more home runs (6) than Casares-Maher’s five.“I’m not sure we’ve done anything,” Doepking said of how SU improved Casares-Maher. “You’ve just been able to see what she is capable of doing when she’s healthy.”When Casares-Maher missed 19 games this season, senior Alicia Hansen slotted in at shortstop. Now that Casares-Maher is healthy, she’s reclaimed her spot in the middle of the infield.Said Hansen: “Neli is hands down the best infielder I have ever seen in my life.” Comments Published on April 29, 2019 at 9:55 pm Contact Anthony: [email protected]last_img read more