CARBONDALE — Challenge accepted.
After turning in consecutive clunkers Friday in the Coach B Classic, the SIU softball team played two crisp games Saturday, although it only derived one win from their effort.
Following an 8-1 rout of Northern Illinois in their first game Saturday, the Salukis hung with tournament favorite Illinois until the Fighting Illini broke a scoreless tie with five runs in the bottom of the sixth to secure a 5-0 win at Charlotte West Stadium.
SIU (8-8) will play for third place at noon today.
“I just thought we were better overall,” Salukis coach Kerri Blaylock said. “The Northern Illinois game was just a good game all around, and I don’t think the box score will give us credit for some balls we lasered (against Illinois).
“The point now is not to go backward.”
Savanna Dover (1-6) matched Illinois’ Emily Oestreich (3-2) pitch-for-pitch over 5 ½ innings. Dover retired 10 straight hitters at one point, keeping hitters off-balance by changing speeds and relying on a defense that made every play.
First baseman Kyleigh Decker and shortstop Savannah Fisher were terrific with the glove, making four or five tough plays between them look pretty easy. The Salukis were denied a 2-0 fourth inning lead when Jenny Jansen’s bid for a two-run homer to left died in the wind, hauled in on the warning track by Carly Thomas.
That was as close as SIU got to a hit against Oestreich until Decker, who worked a nine-pitch walk in the second, spoiled the no-hit bid by doubling to right-center with one out in the seventh. By then, the game was decided thanks to another big sixth inning by the Illini.
After racking up seven and five runs in the sixth inning of their last two games in Carbondale, Illinois suddenly pounced on Dover in this sixth inning. Following consecutive singles by Kiana Sherlund and Sam Acosta, then a walk to Thomas, Stephanie Abello stroked a two-run single off Dover’s leg.
Rowan McGuire laced a two-run triple to right-center for a 4-0 lead, ending what had been a good afternoon for Dover. She gave up five hits and five runs over five-plus innings, walking three and fanning none.
Blaylock had ace Brianna Jones and Megan Brown warming up while the Illini built their rally, but felt Dover’s first five innings gave her first dibs on working out of trouble.
“She deserved the chance to stay in there because she had stayed so composed,” Blaylock said. “I just think she’s getting better and better. Her record doesn’t define her.”
In the rout of Northern Illinois, Jones scattered five hits in a complete game effort, fanning five and walking one to up her record to 7-1. Jansen homered and drove in three runs, while Haley Andrus went 2-for-4 with two RBI as the Salukis bagged 11 hits.