The Mercyhurst-North East Saints women's softball team is in the midst of one of its best seasons, and 12th-year head coach Brian Dewey has a couple of local products to thank for that.
Alayna Carlson and Kelsey Drummond, teammates at Dunkirk Senior High School, have teamed up once again to help the Saints to a 36-4 record and the opportunity to play in the NJCAA Division II National Tournament, in Clinton, MS, from May 14-17.
"We really are a well-rounded team," Dewey said. "And there really is no one person that's led our team, but Alayna and Kelsey are instrumental in the success we've had."
Alayna Carlson, left, and Kelsey Drummond, right, have helped the Mercyhurst North East softball team to a 34-4 record this season. Carlson and Drummond played together in high school as well, as they were a part of the Dunkirk Lady Marauders softball team. Carlson graduated with the Class of 2012 and Drummond with the class of 2013.
Carlson has continued the success she had as a freshman by hitting .512 in 38 games while leading the team with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs.
"Nothing she does surprises me," Dewey said of Carlson. "She can hit for average, she hits for power and she hits to all fields. There's really not anything she can't do."
Dewey noted that at junior colleges, it's hard to count on one person for leadership, but with Carlson, he knows he has someone the other players can look up to.
"It's probably more important at a Junior College, because you don't have any juniors or seniors," Dewey said. "So your teams are pretty rough around the edges, because they are only freshman and sophomores. It's pretty rare to have a kid that's mature and acts like a senior.
"The sophomores are still young kids and they act like that," Dewey continued. "Alayna isn't like that. She makes great decisions not only on the field, but off the field, too. And most junior colleges don't have that."
Needless to say, it's going to be hard for Dewey to let Carlson go later this month when she graduates and moves on to a four-year school.
"I wish I could have her for as long as I am coaching," Dewey said. "This is my 12th year, so I'm pretty used to when you get the kids where you want them, they are leaving you."
Carlson, who has added 14 doubles, three triples and 53 runs scored, reached base at a .553 clip and slugged .992 - fifth-best in the country in Division II - will have her choice of schools to choose from come this summer.
"She's definitely going to go on and play at a four-year school," Dewey said. "What's really interesting about Alayna is that when she came out of high school, she had only a little interest from scholarship programs. But now I would say I get a new phone call about her every three days. In the fall she had some interest, but now there's a lot of interest. She's going to have some serious options as our season comes to a close."
Drummond, who is a freshman, has had her own level of success this season, which is something that Dewey expected from the Class of 2013 alumna.
"When we recruited her in high school, I did expect her to be a really solid hitter," Dewey said of Drummond, who is batting .370 in 30 games, including five home runs and 27 RBIs. "But what I didn't expect was her versatility on defense."
Dewey also did not seem to expect Drummond to fill the role he has prescribed her as well as she has.
"She hasn't complained about it at all," Dewey said. "She never complains, she just comes to me and asks to work on things. It can't be easy on her and I know she probably wants to play first, but she's been very positive about playing any position I put her at. And it makes my job a lot easier."
With Carlson moving on to a new school after this season, Dewey will be looking to Drummond, who has added eight doubles, 19 runs and a .414 on-base percentage, to be one of the team's leaders next season.
"She bats sixth and if she progresses the way I think she will, I think she can be in the top three or four next year," Dewey said. "She's third on the team in home runs as a freshman and next year, we'll probably count on her to lead us in that department."
Carlson and Drummond are not the only players on the team from Chautauqua County however, as Maple Grove graduate Lauren Nickerson, Falconer alumna Shelby Overturf and Samantha Mott, a member of Frewsburg's Class of 2013, are also on the team.
"I would say in any give year, 40 percent of my roster is from Chautauqua County," Dewey said. "There's some really good softball that a lot of people don't know about, because a lot of the schools are really small."
One of the people Dewey has leaned on for help in scouting and recruiting local talent is a man Carlson and Drummond know well.
"John Sliwa has been really good about helping his kids move on to our program," Dewey said of the Dunkirk softball coach. "But he's also helped me get kids from other schools. He's been a big help."
As the season winds down and the Saints play out their final games, Dewey knows that he will miss Carlson's presence next fall, but he is hopeful for what the future holds for Drummond.
"The primary thing is it's a real pleasure to coach them," Dewey said. "As good as they are at softball, they're just as good as people. They're part of the reason I enjoy coming to work every day and they're something that Dunkirk should be proud of."