After second baseman Maddy Vermejan gloved a pop-up for the last out Sunday of SIU’s 6-5, eight-inning softball win at then-No. 22 Mississippi State in the Bulldogs’ tournament, the Salukis’ post-game reaction was telling.
For most “mid-major” programs, a win over a Power 5 school results in a joyous outburst. For SIU, it was more or less business as usual. Sure, a couple of players hugged and there were big smiles, but it was mostly a team doing what it expects to do.
“We think we can compete with anyone on a daily basis,” said Salukis coach Kerri Blaylock. “You know, when you play a top 10 team, you have to be extraordinary most of the time, but we feel like we have everything we need to compete in every game.”
The Salukis’ 6-0 start gives them 15 in a row, dating back to a nine-game roll they were on last year before COVID-19 shut down the year. They will put their long winning streak and unbeaten record to a fairly solid test this weekend with five games in three days at the Coach B Classic.
SIU opens Friday with another unbeaten, 4-0 Austin Peay, at 2:30 p.m. in Charlotte West Stadium. It will meet Ball State at 12:15 p.m. Saturday and DePaul at 2:30 p.m., then battle Austin Peay Sunday at 12:15 p.m. and Saint Louis at 4:45 p.m.
Ball State is expected to challenge for the Mid-American Conference title, while DePaul is a perennial favorite in the Big East. Saint Louis just started its season on Monday with a 5-4 loss at Bradley, but is picked to finish in the top half of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
What’s been most impressive about the Salukis is that they have shown the ability to win in multiple ways. Their pitching and defense gives them an advantage in a low-scoring game, as does their speed because of their early ability to manufacture runs.
They’ve also proven they can piece together big innings with their bats and eyes. If it’s not Jenny Jansen belting a ball over the wall, it’s Vermejan or some other SIU hitter sparking a rally by working a walk.
“We have to have contributions from every player to win games,” Blaylock said. “So far, I’ve been impressed with our depth. We’ve played everybody and we’ve gotten contributions from everybody.”
Finally, the Salukis are getting excellent pitching from a staff laden with sophomores and freshmen. Sarah Harness, Carlee Jo Clark and Madi Eberle have each been dominant in the circle. SIU has allowed just 10 runs in six games, logging three shutouts.
Simply put, the Salukis have done nothing so far but confirm expectations inside and outside the program. Blaylock has a simple formula for how they can continue to stay in the win column.
“Forget about all the noise,” she said. “We have to focus on one pitch, one batter, one inning at a time. When we do those things, we’re a pretty good team.”
Only fans on players' pass lists will be allowed into the stadium for the tournament ... Only No. 10 Oklahoma State (21), No. 3 Arizona (16) and top-ranked UCLA (15) own longer winning streaks than SIU ... A win Friday gives Blaylock the longest win streak of her career. The program's longest winning streak is 23 games, set in 1991.