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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Dry throats and sweaty palms will be the order of the day among Southern Illinois University softball players and coaching staff.

The team left its fate in the hands of the NCAA tournament selection committee on Friday when it dropped a 2-0 decision to Northern Iowa. Going into Friday’s Missouri Valley Conference semifinal matchup with the Panthers, the Salukis were looking good.

Most projections had the Salukis in the tournament. SIU’s RPI was at 42. However, that pronouncement was normally made with the caveat, if the team gets to the MVC championship game.

That didn’t happen.

The Salukis have had a real flare for the dramatic recently. They won a pair of extra-inning games at UNI a couple of weeks ago. Last week, it took a three-run, walk-off homer from Katelyn Massa to secure a series win over Bradley.

And, SIU set the stage for another dramatic win Friday.

Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the seventh, Jenny Jansen led off with a single. It appeared as if the Salukis had the Panthers just where they wanted them. However, this time the magic never materialized.

Ashley Wood grounded into a double play before Massa lined out on the infield.

That is lump in the throat stuff.

If the Salukis don’t get in, their season turned on an incredible at bat by UNI’s Sammey Bunch. She battled Brianna Jones in a 13-pitch duel before belting a two-run homer in the fifth. Being down 2-0 in the fifth isn’t normally where you want to be, but given SIU’s penchant for scoring runs, and scoring runs late, it wasn’t uncharted territory.

But, not all stories, or games, end with the phrase happily ever after.

The Salukis now await the next chapter, and they no longer control their own destiny. That is the truly difficult part.

As a competitor, you want that bat in your own hands in the bottom of the seventh. When you’re an out away from nailing down a victory, you want that final ball hit to you. You want to determine your own fate.

This is an NCAA-quality softball team. As outlined in this space last week, the team checks all the boxes. The Salukis have 33 wins, but their fate will likely be determined by the last of their 13 losses.

The players know they can play at NCAA tournament level. The coaches know it. Now, the question remains – does the NCAA believe it?

Today will be a long day for the Salukis. Taking an extra round of batting practice won’t help, taking extra ground balls won’t help.

It’s just a matter of waiting and hoping for the best. And, hoping your best was good enough.

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LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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