051417-spt-siu-sb-celebrate

The SIU softball team defeated Northern Iowa on Saturday to win the Missouri Valley Conference championship.

MIKE WILLIAMS For The Southern

CARBONDALE — The SIU softball team is off to Mississippi in the NCAA Tournament.

The Salukis (33-22), who earned their first NCAA bid since 2007 by winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament for the first time in 26 years Saturday, will play No. 12 seed Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, Friday night. First pitch is scheduled for 8:30 p.m., and the game is scheduled to air on ESPN3.

North Carolina (38-19) and Arizona State (30-20), the other two teams at the Oxford Regional, play at 6 p.m. Friday on ESPN. The two winners will play each other Saturday at a time to be determined, as will the losers of Friday night's matchups. The four-team regional is double-elimination and goes through Sunday.

Ole Miss went into the SEC tournament as the No. 8 seed, and completed an improbable run with wins over Mississippi State, No. 1 Florida, No. 15 Alabama and No. 21 LSU. The Rebels (40-18) won their first-ever SEC tournament title in school history. They are 20-6 at home this season.

North Carolina and Arizona State got two of the field's 32 at-large bids. The Tar Heels lost in the finals of the ACC tournament

SIU coach Kerri Blaylock will take her sixth team into the Big Dance. Blaylock took the Salukis five times between 2003-07, all as at-large bids, and went 9-10 in those trips. She said her team has as good a chance as any in the regional after taking out the top-two seeds at the MVC tournament.

"I feel like we are playing our best softball right now, which is a good thing," Blaylock said at a watch party held at Pinch Penny Pub Sunday night. "The way I look at it, anything can happen when you are on the diamond. We're just going to go out and roll the dice and play. We are just so excited. I've done this a long time, been in a lot of regionals, and had a few upsets. You just go play the game."

Florida (50-6) was the top seed in the field of 64.

SIU plans to practice Monday and Tuesday before leaving for Mississippi on Wednesday.

todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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