“You can do all the X’s and O’s right, but if you’re not emotionally attached, it’s real hard to win in this league.”
That quote came from Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown before Sunday’s Game 4 against the St. Louis Blues, a game the Kings won to sweep the Blues out of the playoffs.
Such is the case with SIU and this week’s State Farm Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
The Salukis are faced with the task of having to win what amounts to three elimination games if they wish to extend their season with a berth in the NCAA tournament. SIU has an RPI of 77 entering the competition, far too high for an at-large bid.
Thus, it’s a win-to-get-in scenario for the Salukis.
SIU’s history in the MVC tournament has not been overly favorable. The Salukis won the 1991 Gateway Conference tournament, but have not won a conference tournament since switching to the MVC in 1993.
In the years since, SIU advanced to the championship game just twice, 2004 and 2010. The Salukis hosted the tournament in 2004 and finished in a tie for fifth when they hosted again in 2008.
At this point, it has been five years since SIU last graced the NCAA tournament with its presence. With all the great teams the Salukis have had in the 21st century, what are the odds that this year could finally be the year for SIU?
The 2012 season has been defined by the inconsistency you normally see out of young teams. At their best, the Salukis have been locked in on defense, aggressive on the basepaths and incredibly efficient at the plate.
On the other hand, SIU has also looked very tight on offense with shaky pitching and a perceived lack of confidence.
Being in No. 1 seed Northern Iowa’s side of the bracket doesn’t help either. While the Salukis took series from both Creighton and Evansville, the Bluejays have the conference’s statistically best offense and the Purple Aces run-ruled SIU, 9-0, two weeks ago in perhaps the low point of the season.
That being said, the pitching has to get it done. SIU has the tools to compete offensively with anybody in the tournament, but how it goes about business in the circle will define its chances.
Elimination games are tough because swings in momentum take longer to correct. There’s no Friday if you can’t win Thursday and SIU knows that.
Senior leadership counts too and Mallory Duran-Sellers, who set the MVC single-season record for runs scored with her 61st Sunday against Bradley, Haley Gorman and Alicia Junker need to provide the appropriate guidance this week.
Or the season ends and another offseason begins, another year of watching the NCAA tournament instead of playing in it.
PETE SPITLER is a sports reporter for The Southern Illinoisan. He can be contacted at 618-351-5073 or firstname.lastname@example.org.