May 9, 2012
By Bill Ford
CARBONDALE,Ill. - With final preparations being made at Charlotte West Stadium for the 2012 MVC softball championships, the No. 4 seed Salukis are happy to be home.
"I'm enjoying being at home and not having to travel," SIU head coach Kerri Blaylock said. "It's really special for our three seniors (Mallory Duran-Sellers, Alicia Junker, and Haley Gorman) also, and I'm happy our administration made it happen."
The Dawgs head into a tournament in which they haven't had much luck recently. In fact, they haven't won a conference tournament since 1991, when the league was called the Gateway Conference. SIU has been a runner-up three times, most recently to Creighton in 2010.
Senior shortstop Haley Gorman said the team is focused and the chance to bring home a conference title on their home field would be thrilling.
"It would be so special and mean everything to win it here," Gorman said. "I'm not ready for it to be over so I think keeping the trophy here and going to a regional would be icing on the cake."
It came down to a tight conference race that determined seeding for the three-day tournament. Northern Iowa ran away with the outright title but the last seven seeds weren't decided until last weekend. The Salukis had a chance to finish anywhere from second to fifth headed into last weekend's series with Bradley and with two losses fell into the No. 4.
Despite winning all but two of their conference series, the Salukis wound up in the No. 4 seed, yet Blaylock is optimistic about the spot the Salukis are in.
"I don't think the seeding matters but I like playing on the first day because I don't think you sit around and wait to play," Blaylock said.
"When we come to the tournament, regardless of our seed, we have to play the best to win so I don't think you can put a whole lot into where we are seeded at this point," Gorman said. "
The Salukis made five-straight NCAA Regionals from 2003-07 but haven't been back since, and Blaylock is itching to get back into the field of 64.
"It's what drives me every day and we haven't won the conference tournament since '91 and haven't been to a regional since '07 but it keeps me hungry, keeps us fresh, and keeps us going," Blaylock said.
Southern will play Thursday's 4:05 p.m. game against the winner of No. 5 seed Creighton and No. 8 seed Evansville. The Salukis took both games of the doubleheaders against the two teams but each time dropped the series finale.
If they win, they will face No. 1 seed Northern Iowa, who has just four conference losses on the season including one against SIU in a 7-1 decision on April 28 at Charlotte West Stadium.
All games except the championship game of the tournament will be broadcast live for free on Valley Live with R.C. McBride and Laura Leonard calling the action. This is the second year that the MVC has broadcast games through the site.
The championship game will air live on Fox Sports Networks including FOX Sports Midwest, FOX Sports Indiana, FOX Sports Kansas City (1.6 million homes), FOX College Sports Pacific, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, DirecTV (Channel 671), Dish Network (Channel 418), AT&T U-Verse (Channel 748) and ESPN3 outside the league's six-state footprint (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska).
The tournament festivities began earlier tonight with the annual banquet, which was held at SIU Arena. All-Conference and specialty awards were announced at the ceremony.