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EVANSTON — SIU's softball team had enough offense to win its first game in the NCAA Tournament in 12 years Friday, but not the pitching and defense.

Louisville scored four runs in the opening two innings at Drysdale Field off the Salukis' all-time wins leader, and rallied for four runs in the last three to win 9-5 at the Evanston Regional. The Cardinals (34-21) advanced to meet No. 17/18 Northwestern (44-10) at 1 p.m. Saturday. SIU (33-14) will try to keep its season alive against Detroit Mercy (31-27) in an elimination game right after it.

"Our 'O' was working today, we just gotta stick it out on defense, bring that offense back, and keep fighting," said SIU second baseman Maddy Vermejan, who delivered one of the Salukis' 11 hits. 

SIU stranded 12 baserunners, including the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, but still scored the most runs in an NCAA regional game since beating Mississippi Valley State 7-0 in 2007. The Salukis chased Louisville starter Danielle Watson in the third after Katelyn Massa drove in Maris Boelens with a bases-loaded single. Taylor Roby, a redshirt freshman righty, allowed an RBI ground out by Jordan Spicer but limited the damage to two runs.

SIU struck for three runs in the fourth to take the lead. Jenny Jansen just missed a three-run home run in the off the top of the wall in left-center field and had to settle for a two-run double that tied the game. Jansen, a sophomore making her NCAA regional debut, went 3 for 4 with two RBIs.

"Both of those pitchers and I were good matchups because I like to hit the inside pitch, and both of those pitchers lived on the inside corner," Jansen said. "For me, I saw it well, and I thought we did have a lot of our hitters putting pressure on their defense. Sometimes it just didn't work out like we wanted them to." 

The Salukis took a 5-4 lead when Louisville right fielder Megan Hensley dropped Spicer's fly ball, but it turned out to be SIU's last run of the game. Roby (14-4) closed the door the rest of the way, and the Cardinals knocked Saluki starter Brianna Jones out in the fifth.

"It was a tough spot. We've put her in a couple of those throughout the year," Louisville coach Holly Aprile said. "I thought she did really well. They're a good-hitting team, they swing the bats. We put her in a tough spot, and she got out of it. I think that will hopefully give her confidence moving forward." 

Jones, SIU's all-time wins leader and the school record holder in innings pitched and appearances, walked three in the first inning. The Cardinals scored their first run when Massa, the Missouri Valley Conference defensive player of the year, threw short of second base trying to gun down Sidney Melton. The ball skipped into center field, and Melton never stopped. A passed ball led to a 2-0 Louisville lead after Jones walked the bases loaded.

Jones left in the fifth after Hensley hit a ball off the wall of the Welsh-Ryan Arena, which borders left and center field, for a 6-5 Cardinals lead.

"We didn't pitch very well early, and that's unusual, but I don't think you just rail on a kid that's your all-time wins leader," SIU coach Kerri Blaylock said. "It was a rough start. I thought our offense was fantastic. I thought (hitting coach) Jen (Sewell) had them prepared. I thought Jenny Jansen, Maris Boelens and Maddy Vermejan had a phenomenal day today, we just didn't throw very well, but this was the same team that came back and beat Florida State." 

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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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