NORMAL — Two unearned runs in the top of the eighth sent Southern Illinois to the Missouri Valley Conference championship softball game. The Salukis defeated Illinois State 2-0 for their 32nd win of the year.
Illinois State committed a pair of errors in the eighth, allowing SIU to break up a scoreless game.
The winning rally started innocently enough as Eyrika Brandenburg bounced to third. Alyssa Wiebel fielded the ball, but threw low to first, allowing Brandenburg to scamper to second. Harre followed with a solid single up the middle, but Brandenburg had to avoid the ball but couldn’t advance.
The Salukis finally broke onto the scoreboard when ISU shortstop Riley Strandgard misplayed Merri Anne Patterson’s sharply hit ball. Strandgard gave ground slightly and the ball bounced over her left shoulder, allowing Brandenburg to score without a throw.
“I was really hyped up from the inning before getting out of that bases loaded situation,” Patterson said. “I just tried to dial it back down. My main goal was just to keep it on the ground because I knew it was going to get through."
“I thought (ISU starter Sarah) Finck just settled in in the middle innings,” said SIU associate coach Jen Sewell. “We let her settle in. We were just swinging too hard. We had to get back to the plan.”
Katelyn Massa’s sacrifice fly chased Harre home with the second run.
As Patterson alluded, the Salukis were fortunate to get an opportunity to hit in the eighth.
SIU starter Savanna Dover just three hits through the first six innings. In the seventh, Annie Heineman led off the inning with a solid single up the middle. Then, Dove hit Alex Caliva and Riley Hale in succession, loading the bases with just one out.
SIU coach Kerri Blaylock lifted Dover in favor of Brianna Jones, the winner in SIU’s first game Friday.
Dover got Shannon Felde to pop up to shallow right on a 3-2 pitch. Then, she fanned Jordan de los Reyes, the MVC player of the year on another 3-2 pitch to escape harm.
“Whew – 3-2 twice with bases loaded,” Sewell said. “That’s just gutsy throwing the ball. Both pitchers were throwing gasoline tonight."
Jones worked a clean eighth to pick up her second win of the day.
But, it was Dover’s strong performance that got SIU to the seventh.
“I just kind of went in there thinking attack the zone and let my defense work,” Dover said. “Warming up I felt really good. I just kind of focused on letting my pitches spin in the zone.”
“It was actually a pretty good ballgame if you look at it from a pitching standpoint,” said ISU coach Melinda Fischer. “We didn’t play well defensively that last inning. You’ve got to compete all the way through it.”
In the other semi-final game, UNI defeated Wichita State 6-4 on a walk-off homer. The Salukis play the Panthers at 1 p.m.
The Salukis reached the semifinal by defeating Missouri State for the fourth time in six days.
After sweeping the Bears at SIU last week, the third-seeded Salukis knocked off Missouri State 9-3 in their first game on Friday.
Missouri State scored single runs in the first two innings before SIU “exploded” for six runs in the third. The Salukis scored six runs on just four hits, two of which were of the infield variety.
SIU loaded the bases on Merri Anne Patterson’s single, Sydney Jones’ walk and an infield hit by Katelyn Massa. Maddy Vermejan got SIU on the board with a sacrifice fly. Back-to-back walks by Savannah Fisher and Susie Baranski forced in the tying run.
Eyrika Brandenburg doubled home two more runs and then scored from second on Shaye Harre’s infield single.
“When you hit the ball hard and put the ball in play and attack, good things will happen, and that’s what happened,” said SIU coach Kerri Blaylock.
Harre drove in SIU’s other three runs with a two-run homer in the fifth and a sixth inning double.
Jones picked up her 16th win of the season despite yielding 10 hits – four of those hits came in the first two innings.
“I think she was having a little bit of trouble with the landing area on the mound and I didn’t realize that until she came and told me,” Blaylock said.
Harre led the Salukis with three hits while Massa and Brandenburg each had a pair.