CARBONDALE — Shaye Harre's only hit in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game was an RBI single in the fourth inning.
That's how things happened for SIU's softball team in Normal. Harre's hit drove in the Salukis' fourth and final run of the fourth inning, and they held on for the 4-3 win over Northern Iowa to win the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Harre was named the tournament MVP after batting over .600 in the three wins.
"It's definitely a new experience, and, pretty cool to see it all happen," Harre said.
SIU (33-22) punched its 11th NCAA Tournament ticket in school history with its first MVC tournament title in 26 years. The Salukis will play host Mississippi (40-18), the tournament's No. 12 seed, Friday night at 8:30 in Oxford, Mississippi.
Big innings and even bigger saves were part of SIU's current seven-game winning streak. Sophomore Nicole Doyle pitched five strong innings in a Game 2 win at Indiana State back in late April. The Salukis needed a walk-off double from Eyrika Brandenburg to sweep Missouri State in the regular-season finale and earn the third seed at the Valley tournament.
A six-run second inning helped SIU top Missouri State 9-3 in its tournament opener.
"What these kids do, they do a decent job of adjusting after the first time through," SIU coach Kerri Blaylock said. "(Associate head coach) Jen (Sewell) does a phenomenal job with them, scouting the other night with (Indiana State's Sarah) Finck, with (Northern Iowa's Jaclyn) Spencer. Jen will work with them on adjustments, and I feel like they do a good job."
The Salukis scored the only runs of their semifinal win over host Illinois State in the top of the eighth with the help of two errors, and got two great pitching outings from Savanna Dover and Brianna Jones.
Dover threw 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball, and Jones got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the seventh to keep the game going. The roles reversed in the championship game against Northern Iowa, as Dover got the last three outs to finish the weekend with 8 1/3 shutout innings.
"I think the whole staff has done a great job," Blaylock said. "Dover threw one of the best games of her career the other night. Brin has thrown very well the last couple games. We're giving her some rest this week and letting her rest up. She's had a lot of innings."
Mississippi comes off its first Southeastern Conference tournament championship in school history. The Rebels finished as the runner-up in the Norman (Oklahoma) Regional last year.
Arizona State (30-20) and North Carolina (38-19), both at-large selections to the field of 64, fill out the four-team regional. The winner of Friday night's second game will take on the winner of the first game between the Sun Devils and Tar Heels at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
The losers of the first two games square off at 4 p.m. Saturday in an elimination game. The double-elimination regional is scheduled to end Sunday.