Toni Martin’s emergence as Syracuse’s home run leader
Jordan Phelps | Staff Photographer
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Toni Martin stepped up to the plate in the fourth inning with runners on first and second after a walk. The game was scoreless, and Martin was looking to put the Orange on the board for the first time in 2021.
She rocketed a pitch from Notre Dame’s Alexis Holloway over the center field wall at Anderson Softball Stadium. When she rounded third, Jamie Gregg, Neli Casares-Maher and Calista Almer waited around home plate. Martin’s left foot hit home, and the group slapped her helmet one by one.
?: Nothing like the first home run cele of the year? pic.twitter.com/NiVqhG3Y8j
— Syracuse Softball (@CuseSB) February 20, 2021
After a slow offensive start to the season, Martin — now in her fifth year with Syracuse (6-5, 2-2 Atlantic Coast) — leads the team in home runs (3) and RBIs (6) through the first 11 games. Martin, who ranks seventh all time at Syracuse in triples, has never been the team’s biggest power hitter and normally uses her speed to snag an extra base on doubles. But with SU’s former home run leader AJ Kaiser transferring to San Diego, Martin has stepped up as the Orange’s top power hitter in her final year.
Martin’s RBI and double totals increased exponentially in her first three seasons. But in the 2020 season that was cut short due to the pandemic, her stats dropped. Her OPS dropped from a team-leading .929 in 2019 to .777 over the 20-game 2020 season, and she only hit two home runs.
Martin’s 6-foot frame allows head coach Shannon Doepking to place her in the meat of the lineup. She’s hit third in five games, and fourth and fifth in three games each. In high school, however, Martin typically hit fifth or sixth and starred in the varsity starting lineup her freshman year.
At Raymore-Peculiar (Mo.) high school, Martin ended her career as one of the Panthers’ most decorated softball players. She finished her senior year batting .386, driving in 14 runs and with an on-base percentage of .456. Over four years, she totaled 119 hits, 77 RBIs and 25 doubles. Her “steading influence” in the middle of the lineup led the Panthers to two consecutive district championships and a runner-up finish in 2015.
“Finally, that light clicked inside her, and she really became a good softball player,” said her father Sean.
Sean said that she carries a perfectionist attitude with her. After hitless games — like Syracuse’s Feb. 21 loss to UNC, where she went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts — she takes time to “go back and review and reflect,” using time in between games to think about areas to improve.
That attitude allowed her to not get too high or too low during games, her high school coach Jim Brown said, which radiated to the rest of the lineup. If she struck out looking, she reacted the same way she would if she had just hit a home run.
But Martin’s impact on the field wasn’t immediate. While she played softball for the majority of her childhood, she didn’t really “catch fire” until her second middle school season. Then, Martin’s frame began to fill out, and her power followed.
“She just kind of continually kept growing and getting big and getting stronger, could always run pretty well,” Brown said. “Her strength kind of caught up with her size.”
During a large tournament in high school, Martin hit a ball that Brown said was one of the two or three hardest-hit softballs he’s ever seen in a fastpitch girls’ softball game. In a game at Grain Valley High School, Martin planted her front foot and drove the ball over the center field wall. Brown said the softball landed far past a treeline 15 feet behind the fence.
But in between home runs, Martin would do whatever was necessary to help the team. She didn’t have to hit a double in the gap every at bat to contribute, and she knew that. Martin currently leads the Orange with two sacrifice hits through 11 games, and had six such plate appearances through her first four seasons with Syracuse.
“When there was a situation that maybe called for her to hit behind runners, she always would,” Brown said. “If we needed a fly ball, maybe to get a kid over, you can count on her to get that fly ball.”
In her third year under Doepking, Martin is retaking the role of leader that she possessed her final two years as a captain in high school. Doepking has overhauled the roster the last two years in search of the winning culture that wasn’t present during Martin’s junior season. However, Martin isn’t the vocal kind. She’s a quiet leader who leads by example, Brown said.
“At times, she would speak up and speak her mind, but for the most part just kind of let her actions speak for her,” Brown said.
Her dad said she’s always planned out her goals, on and off the field. What she wanted to accomplish in a season, where she wants to travel and how she’d like to fare academically. But after the onset of the pandemic, she’s switched to a “the time is now, let’s go for it now” attitude.
In her final season with SU, she hasn’t hesitated to get her batting hot. In conference play, she leads the team in seven statistical categories, continuing to lead by example as a captain on a team with seven freshmen.
“(Her teammates) are going to get pitched to because they don’t want to walk anybody with a kid like that coming up,” Brown said.
Published on March 17, 2021 at 10:45 pm
Contact Anthony: [email protected]