CARBONDALE — It was a big day at Charlotte West Stadium.
The second and third seeds in next week’s Missouri Valley Conference were on the line. And, it was Senior Day.
The Salukis responded in a big way, sweeping Missouri State 5-0 and 10-2. The victories lock down the third seed in the Valley tournament. The Salukis needed help from Illinois State to gain the second seed, but the Redbirds dropped two to UNI.
After the sweep, the team and fans said an emotional goodbye to seniors Shaye Harre, Merri Anne Patterson and Jessa Thomas.
“I think honestly, what I’m just happy with is we played well,” said SIU coach Kerri Blaylock. “We played well from the get go. Brianna threw well and we got going offensively early. I thought we hit the ball extremely well. In the second game I kind of challenged them. I thought we were flat in the first inning. In the second inning we came out and scored. I reminded them we had something to play for.”
Despite the importance of the games and the emotions of Senior Day, focus was never a concern for Blaylock.
“Not from these guys, some classes you do, but these guys are so locked in,” she said. “They want to do something. They’ve talked about it all along.”
In the first game, the Salukis paired a potent offense with the solid pitching of Brianna Jones. Jones scattered five hits while her teammates ripped 10, including a pair of solo shots by freshman catcher Katelyn Massa.
Massa lofted a fly ball over the right field fence in her first at bat and drilled a line drive well over the left field wall in the fourth.
“She is just coming into her own right now,” Blaylock said. “We need somebody to replace Shaye when she’s gone.”
Defense decided the second game – SIU’s brilliance as contrasted with Missouri State’s six errors.
“We had a couple of ESPN plays, I mean Maddy’s (Vermejan), Merri Anne’s (Patterson) and Fish’s (Savannah Fisher),” Blaylock said. “We’ve got a good defensive team. We’ve proven that all year with our defensive percentage. I thought we were locked in today.”
Vermejan charged a slow roller and shoveled the ball to first from her glove for the second out in the fifth. Fisher dove to her right, then threw out Bethany Sullinger from her knees in the third. And, Patterson tracked down a long fly ball off the bat of Sullinger to lead off the sixth.
“We’re pretty potent when we put all three (phases of the game) together,” Harre said. “Today we did a pretty good job of putting all three together. It was all about getting the right seed and getting a good placing for the tournament next week.”
Missouri State committed six errors in the game, but several of the errors came on balls SIU blistered.
“We hit the ball very hard,” Blaylock said. “When you hit the ball hard you’re going to get hops and whatever. We tattered the ball the whole time.”
Winning pitcher Savanna Dover gave up a pair of runs in the second, but the Salukis turned a pair of Missouri State errors into three runs in the bottom of the inning. SIU added five runs in the fifth, including a three-run homer by Sydney Jones.
SIU added two more in the sixth to complete the short-game win.
Harre doubled in the sixth, the 47th of her career. That ties her with Becky Lis for the all-time lead.
The Salukis close the three-game set and the regular season today with a single game against the Bears. First pitch is at 11 a.m.