It will be an inning that Pittsburg State softball player Erin DeStefano will never forget.

It will be an inning that Pittsburg State softball player Erin DeStefano will never forget.
As the Gorillas were playing St. Edwards in the last game of the Southeastern Oklahoma Invitational on Feb. 22, DeStefano, a transfer pitcher from Chesterfeld, Mo. via Marshall University, was on the mound.
In the fifth inning, DeStefano took a line-drive under her glove that hit her in the left eye.
“The next thing I knew, I was on the ground and I went into shock,” DeStefano said.
From there, she was rushed to the hospital in Durant, Okla.
“I was scared because I could not see,” DeStefano said. “It was scary because I thought I might have lost my left eye.”
Now, over the last four weeks, DeStefano has had surgery to put plates in her face and has been trying to get back on the road to recovery.
Last week, DeStefano was cleared to start working out with the team and may be back this weekend for the Gorillas’ MIAA season openers against Nebraska-Omaha and Northwest Missouri State.
“What is hurting us mentally is thinking we are getting her back and not really knowing,” said PSU head coach Brad Horky. “We’ve played well since she went down and we responded well in that game [St. Edwards], in fact.”
One person that stepped up to fill one of the gaps left by DeStefano was junior pitcher Melissa Slayden.
Slayden stepped in and has gone 10-4 on the mound with a 2.40 ERA.
But, Slayden will be the last person to relish her good fortune because of a teammate’s injury.
“I really hate that,” Slayden said. “To get glory because she has suffered is not good so, bringing her back is a blessing.”
With DeStefano’s return, it will leave the Gorillas with four pitchers — DeStefano, Slayden, Tiffany Swanson and freshman Hilary Erbert.
Slayden said that she hopes that her time will not be limited on the mound when DeStefano officially returns to pitch.
“I hope not,” Slayden said. “If we are all used the right way, it is nothing but up from here.”
Horky said that Slayden has definitely earned her spot after her performance in the 12 games she has started.
“Melissa has earned where she is at and nothing should change when Erin comes back,” Horky said.
On top of that, DeStefano is one of the first to talk about Slayden’s accomplishments because of her injury.
“I give a lot of credit to Mel because she has really stepped up on the mound,” DeStefano said.
As for DeStefano, she will now return to St. Louis to have her retina examined.
After spending the last three years fighting injury, DeStefano takes her latest ailment in stride.
“People ask me what I gave up for Lent,” DeStefano said. “I just tell them that I gave up college softball.”
While getting back to the plate does not seem to be a big deal, it is returning to the mound that may be a little more daunting.
“I have not pitched yet but, I am not nervous about going to the plate,” DeStefano, who was batting .400 prior to her injury, said. “I will give it a couple of weeks to get my pitches working and, after I get past that first batter, I will be okay.”
The return may be slow-going but, no one is happier than her teammates to get DeStefano back.
“Obviously, she is a good thing at the plate and she can give us another arm on the mound,” Slayden said.
And Horky made no bones about where DeStefano will be when she is able to return.
“When she is back, she is back and we will throw her right in,” Horky said.

Matthew Clark can be reached at matthew.clark@morningsun.net or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 140. Follow Morning Sun sports at twitter.com/mssports.