Missouri State chose Rylie Hamilton.
The Bears chose incorrectly.
SIU’s All-Missouri Valley Conference third baseman from last year made them pay for pitching to her with a two-strike, two-run single that led to a four-run third inning Wednesday that put the Salukis ahead for good in a 7-5 win at Charlotte West Stadium.
In improving to 19-3 overall and 2-0 in the Valley, SIU erased an early 2-0 deficit for the second straight game. Madi Eberle (9-1) worked 6 1/3 innings of relief to earn the win and Anna Carder knocked in three runs, while Brooke Caylor went 2-for-3 and scored a pair of runs out of the No. 9 spot in the order.
But it was Hamilton who was involved in the game’s key sequence, largely because of the MVC’s hottest hitter. Missouri State coach Holly Hesse faced a classic no-win situation after Elizabeth Warwick’s deep flyout to left moved Caylor and Emma Austin into scoring position.
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Pitch to Jackie Lis, who has seven homers and 23 RBI in her first 22 college games, or pitch to the all-league player?
“They walked Jackie because they didn’t expect me to get a hit,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton fell behind 0-2 in the count but got a hittable pitch from McKenzie Vaughan (1-5). Hamilton shortened her swing and took the ball the other way into right field for the hit that gave the Salukis a 3-2 advantage.
As she trotted back to first after the hit, Hamilton pumped both fists toward the dugout and yelled at her teammates.
“Everyone in the lineup has the capability to do what I did,” she said.
Carder backed up Hamilton’s thoughts moments later. After Hamilton stole second without opposition, Carder stroked a two-run single up the middle for a 5-2 lead.
Four runs, all after two outs and after Hesse chose to face Hamilton instead of Lis.
“Rylie was frustrated going into this series, stacking up what she hadn’t done instead of what she has done,” said Salukis coach Jen Sewell. “I reminded her that you have to remember who you are. Just a few at-bats doesn’t tell anybody that you’re still on paper the hitter you were last week.
“I thought she grinded that at-bat out. She has to remember she’s a bad-ball hitter and a good-ball hitter. She understands how to manage the at-bat. I’m proud of her in that aspect.”
Hamilton drew a walk in her next plate appearance and scored from first when Carder drilled a double to the wall in left-center field. That gave SIU a 7-2 advantage, which at the time seemed like window-dressing.
Instead, the Bears (9-15, 0-2) rallied with the help of some poor Saluki defense for three runs in the sixth. They also loaded the bases with two outs for Tess Weakly before Eberle pulled the string on her for a called third strike, marking the fourth time in two days Missouri State left the bases filled.
Eberle also got SIU out of a jam not of her making in the first. Starter Hannah Hockerman allowed a two-run homer to Weakly and walked three hitters, throwing 36 pitches. Sewell hooked Hockerman with a 1-0 count on Kelsie Lewis for Eberle, who fanned her to start a string where Eberle retired 13-of-14 hitters while the offense built a lead.
Austin added two hits and an RBI for the Salukis, giving her five hits in the two-game series and upping her average to .466. Lis chipped in a first inning RBI on a fielder’s choice grounder to second as Warwick backed away from Kim DeBold long enough to force a late tag and then a hurried, late throw to first.
It was enough to overcome two more errors, giving SIU five in the series.
“I don’t know that it’s a concern. It’s confusing more than anything,” Sewell said. “It’s a part of entering Valley series and putting a bit too much weight on the first couple of balls that are hit instead of relying on the fact we’re 20-plus games into the season.
“Those balls have been hit at us. Let’s do what we’ve been doing instead of overthinking it.”
The Salukis stay home this weekend for three games with Valparaiso. Friday’s series opener starts at 4 p.m.