OXFORD, Miss. — Brittany Pickett handcuffed SIU's offense to four hits, and North Carolina pieced together two two-run innings to knock the Salukis out of the NCAA Tournament's Oxford Regional Saturday.
The Tar Heels (39-20) handed SIU (33-24) its second straight shutout at the Ole Miss Softball Complex, 4-0, behind nine hits. Third baseman Berlynne Delamora and catcher Katie Bailiff both drove in two runs to keep North Carolina's season alive and end the Salukis' 11th NCAA Tournament appearance.
SIU couldn't keep up against Pickett, a freshman lefty who struck out seven and allowed only one extra-base hit.
"We had such a phenomenal run, and I actually thought we played pretty well today," SIU coach Kerri Blaylock said. "We just couldn't get anything going, offensively, but I was really proud of our pitchers. The way they hit the ball, and how good they are, offensively, to keep it close, and we just couldn't put anything together."
North Carolina scored the winning runs in the bottom of the third inning off Saluki starter Savanna Dover with two outs. Kendra Lynch, a senior infielder who hit 21 home runs in 57 games entering Saturday's contest, singled and went to third base on Berlynne Delamora's single to center.
Bailiff then chopped one past Dover and beat the throw to drive in the first run of the game. Pinch-runner Brittany Turner rounded third base and scored when first baseman Shaye Harre's throw home sailed high for an error. Dover ended the inning by getting Katelyn Shifflett to ground out to shortstop.
Sydney Jones doubled with one out in the fourth, but was stranded after Katelyn Massa popped out to first base and Maddy Vermejan struck out looking. SIU scored 15 runs in three wins at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, but got shut out in two NCAA regional losses for only the second time in history. The Salukis had four hits and stranded five baserunners in Friday night's 8-0 loss to No. 13 Mississippi and Saturday's loss.
It was the first time SIU got shut out in back-to-back regional losses since falling 2-0 to Missouri and host Iowa at the Iowa City Regional in 1991.
"We didn't expect to come in here and lose. We all thought we had a shot, and I don't think the numbers we put up shows the kind of team we are," SIU senior outfielder Merri Anne Patterson said. "On any given day we could have beat 'em, but, sometimes games just don't go your way. It's their time right now, but in the future it'll be our time."
Harre ended her career as SIU's all-time RBIs leader with 156 and fifth in career home runs, with 31. Her 188 hits are tied with Cheryl Venorsky (1989-92) for eighth place in school history.
Patterson's 22 career home runs are tied for eighth all-time with Marta Viefhaus (1998-2001).
SIU could return all three pitchers and six of their main position starters next spring. Blaylock said she's start worrying about that in a couple of weeks.
"We've got a young team, and we'll have people back, but we're gonna miss these guys," she said, sitting next to Harre and Patterson. "I don't know how you replace these two, but I don't even worry about that. As I said, I don't go to the locker room the next two months. I have to grieve a while, and then I go back at it, but they've given me something I thought would never happen, which was a conference tournament championship. It's eluded us for so long. They've just been great leaders, along with Jessa (Thomas), and they've just been everything we've asked for, and done everything we've asked them to do."