SIU softballers have overachieved this year by winning the MVC Conference Tournament after finishing third in the league standings.
However, in the postseason, teams have to get key hits and score runs, something SIU couldn’t do all weekend.
“I was real proud of our kids,” said head coach Kerri Blaylock of her Dawgs’ two-day effort last Friday and Saturday playing in Oxford, Mississippi. “The moment wasn’t too big for them.”
The Salukis couldn’t get key hits all weekend and allowed both North Carolina (4-0 winners over SIU) and Ole Miss (an 8-0 win by Ole Miss) to small-ball them to death.
“They really didn’t really hit us hard,” said Blaylock after Friday’s 8-0 blanking by Ole Miss.
And SIU occasionally hit the ball hard.
For example, in the 4-0 loss to UNC, SIU’s Sydney Jones crushed a line-drive double off the center field wall in the fourth with only one out. But UNC’s ace Brittany Pickett proceeded to retire the next two batters to stifle any rally hopes for SIU.
Clutch hitting was missing all weekend for the Dawgs, starting in Friday’s blowout loss to Ole Miss. Friday’s game started out like a pitchers duel. SIU’s Eyrika Brandenburg started off the top of the first with a single. But the Dawgs’ bats went cold and SIU’s teammates couldn’t bring her home. The same thing happened in the second inning. That pattern immediately put SIU out of the game.
An Ole Miss batter walked to start the bottom of the second inning and advanced to third base on a double. As teams did all weekend, Ole Miss small-balled SIU for its first run with a sacrifice squeeze (1-0 Ole Miss lead).
Three of the next four UM batters got on base after that sacrifice. The third hitter cracked a base clearing triple to make the score 5-0 Ole Miss.
In the top of the third, SIU’s hitters returned to their frustrating form. Susie Baranski and Brandenburg hit consecutive singles to put runners at the corners with only one out. Again, SIU left its fourth and fifth runners on base to crush any hope of a Dawg comeback.
Ole Miss tacked two more on in the fifth to run-rule Southern 8-0. The lack-of-key-hits pattern continued in Saturday’s elimination game against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Again, the game started like it might be a pitching duel, as it was scoreless through the first two innings. However, four Tar Heel hits and a Saluki error led to two UNC runs (2-0 UNC lead) going into the third. UNC added two more runs in the fifth on three singles and a walk.
SIU’s reliever Nicole Doyle came on in relief in the fifth and allowed only one more hit by the Tar Heels, but given the paucity of Dawg hits, it was all over anyway.
But it’s not all over for the Saluki softball team’s future.
Though they lose key seniors Shaye Harre (leader in doubles) and Merri Ann Patterson (.338 batting average), the Salukis return four of their top five hitters and also their top three pitchers.