CARBONDALE — Brianna Jones picked up two wins over the weekend, and SIU's young guns are looking clutch entering the Missouri Valley Conference softball tournament this week in Normal.
Jones' complete-game shutout of Missouri State in Game 1 of a weekend doubleheader gave her the 15th of her career and fifth this season. The 5-foot-8 sophomore earned her second win against the Lady Bears Sunday in four innings of relief, allowing one run in SIU's 3-2 walk-off win.
In 11 innings against Missouri State, Jones (12-11, 2.29 ERA) struck out five and allowed one run. The right-hander from Manchester, Tennessee, is a long way from her 23 wins as a freshman, but with four wins in her last six appearances, looks ready for the playoffs.
SIU (30-22, 17-8 MVC), the third seed in the eight-team field, will play the winner of Thursday's game between No. 7 Missouri State (22-25, 10-16) and No. 6 Drake (28-26, 11-15) at 1:30 p.m. Friday. If the Salukis win, they'll take on host/No. 2 seed Illinois State (30-20, 20-6) at 6:30 p.m. Friday for a spot in Saturday's championship.
SIU swept both Missouri State and Drake this season. The Salukis were also one of two teams in the league to beat Illinois State in a weekend series, taking 2-of-3 early in the season. Northern Iowa (32-18, 20-6) swept the Redbirds in Normal to win the regular-season championship and the tournament's top seed.
Sophomore Eyrika Brandenburg and freshman Katelyn Massa come into the tournament after big weekends. Brandenburg drove in the winning run in SIU's season finale with a walk-off double. She went 3-for-4 in Game 2 with a bases-clearing triple.
Massa, a .310 hitter in Valley play, had her second multiple-homer weekend against the Lady Bears. Massa hit two out in the first game of the series to finish with 14 RBIs during league play.
SIU's 17 league wins were the most since 2012. The Salukis closed the regular season with seven wins in its last eight Valley games.