CARBONDALE — Merri Ann Patterson made the most of her last chance to torture Wichita State, so much so that the Shockers pitched around her with a game on the line to face the Salukis’ most dangerous hitter.
Shaye Harre made the Shockers pay dearly for that strategy in their last trip to SIU as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, crashing a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning of the nightcap Sunday as the Salukis scored a 3-2, 5-4 doubleheader sweep at Charlotte West Stadium.
Brianna Jones (12-11) went the distance in the opener for SIU (25-21, 12-7) and got the last three outs in the nightcap for her fourth save as the Salukis pulled into a third place tie in the Valley with the Shockers (27-17, 12-7).
It wasn’t unnoticed by Patterson or the coaching staff that this was a farewell of sorts. Wichita State is leaving the Valley after 72 years on July 1 for the American Athletic Conference, a move fueled primarily to give its men’s basketball program a bigger national stage.
“It feels good to beat them,” she said. “This is the last time I’ll ever get to play them, and the same for these girls too. Wichita State is good, but they’re not unbeatable.”
After homering twice in the opener and narrowly missing a third homer when her liner down the right field line was blown foul, Patterson nearly went yard in the first inning of the second game. But her fly ball to deep right was hauled in at the warning track, and she settled for a sacrifice fly.
So with Patterson hitting and Susie Baranski at second with one out in the sixth inning of the nightcap, the Shockers gave her the Harre treatment, trying to get her out by working on the edges of the plate. It nearly worked, but Patterson’s foul popup was dropped by third baseman Mackenzie Wright for Wichita State’s second error of the inning.
Patterson turned the 10-pitch at-bat into a walk, giving Harre a forum to make up for an 0-for-4 day to that point. When Jenni Brooks left a 3-2 pitch out over the plate, Harre lined it off the top of the scoreboard behind the right field fence for her sixth homer of the year.
Harre has drawn an incredible 47 walks this season, giving her an on-base percentage nearly 200 points higher than her .325 batting average. Twenty-one of her 37 hits have gone for extra bases. Only two other players in Division I have walked more than Harre.
SIU associate coach Jenn Sewell, filling in post-game for head coach Kerri Blaylock, who was under the weather, figured Harre was going to deliver.
“You don’t keep her quiet all day,” Sewell said. “She’s too much of a competitor. She doesn’t know when teams are going to pitch to her. Sometimes, she gets down two strikes. But we told her if it looks good to you, just hit it.”
Nicole Doyle (7-7) earned the win in the nightcap with two innings of relief after starter Savanna Doyle kept the Shockers, who entered the day with seven starters hitting better than .300, in check for the first four innings.
The Salukis host Evansville at 4 p.m. Tuesday in their next Valley matchup. SIU could still realistically finish as high as second with a little help from Northern Iowa opponents down the stretch.