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Robert Morris

Junior pitcher Sleith moving up charts at Robert Morris

| Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 9:09 p.m.
Robert Morris junior Nicole Sleith, a Yough graduate, has struck out more than 200 batters in each of her first two seasons with the Colonials.
Robert Morris Athletics
Robert Morris junior Nicole Sleith, a Yough graduate, has struck out more than 200 batters in each of her first two seasons with the Colonials.

In 23 years overseeing the Robert Morris softball team, Craig Coleman has coached his share of talented pitchers. Count junior left-hander Nicole Sleith among them.

If she continues on her current trajectory, Sleith could turn out to be the best of all.

The Yough graduate entered 2014 as the two-time Northeast Conference Pitcher of the Year, and she's off to a fast start with a 7-2 record, 0.77 ERA and 68 strikeouts.

Her career strikeout total (525) ranks fourth on the Colonials' all-time list, and she's on pace to become the program's leader in strikeouts and wins.

“Nicole probably is one of the kids we've had pitching here who is the most complete,” Coleman said. “Nicole has great speed and great ball movement. She throws every single moving pitch you could ask a pitcher to have, and she's very accurate with all those pitches.”

Sleith's baptism into the college game was more abrupt than expected. When she arrived on the Moon campus two years ago, she figured to be the No. 2 pitcher behind Latrobe's Alexa Bryson, a senior at the time.

But Bryson suffered an injury early in the season, catapulting Sleith into the No. 1 role. She responded with a school-record 25 wins and 251 strikeouts.

“I definitely wasn't used to pitching two doubleheaders on a weekend,” she said. “It definitely helped me grow as a player. I learned a lot from it.”

The workload of 247 innings, however, was more than Coleman wanted for her. He was able to back her off last year to 170 13 innings, thanks in large part to the emergence of then-junior Geena Badolato, a Mt. Lebanon graduate who had her finest season as a collegiate pitcher in 2013.

Though Coleman's goal is to try to keep Sleith's innings down, he said he might be a little more liberal in using her this season.

Regardless of how many innings she throws, Sleith knows she can lean on catcher and fellow junior Sam Santillo. Santillo (Ellwood City) is the two-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year, and she and Sleith have forged a close-knit relationship.

“Whenever she's calling pitches, almost 95 percent of the time the pitch she calls is the one I had in my head already,” Sleith said.

“She's definitely on a level that I've never had the opportunity to catch until now,” Santillo said. “She has a variety of different pitches, and she throws all of them extremely well.”

For all she's accomplished, Sleith isn't satisfied. She continues to refine her pitches, as well as add more to her repertoire, and she recently has begun to throw inside more, something she had been reluctant to do.

Asked what Sleith's ceiling might be, Coleman laughs.

“Just when I think she's reached it, she shows me she hasn't,” he said

Sleith likely will have some eye-popping numbers by the time her career at Robert Morris is through. But the only number she's concerned with at the moment is one — as in, the No. 1 seed in the NEC Tournament.

Robert Morris has won or shared the NEC regular-season title each of the past three years but failed to win the postseason tournament. In fact, the Colonials haven't won the NEC Tournament since 2005.

Sleith is eager to change that.

“I just want to win the tournament,” she said. “I would really like to be No. 1 seed again because I hear people saying, ‘I don't want to be No. 1 seed. It's like a bad curse.' But I would like to prove people wrong.”

Chuck Curti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ccurti@tribweb.com.

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