Senior Katie Wagner had a solo home run against Bradley on Friday
May 8, 2009
By Kyle Herm
EAST PEORIA, Ill. - The second-seeded Southern Illinois softball team (33-13) was upset by No. 6 Bradley (24-26) 5-3 in the semifinals of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Friday afternoon at the EastSide Centre.
The disappointing loss knocked the Salukis out of the single-elimination tournament by a lower-seeded team for a second-straight year after losing to No. 7 Missouri State last season.
Two weeks earlier Southern Illinois had swept all three games from Bradley at home, but the Braves got the best of SIU to advance to Saturday's championship game against top-seeded Creighton at 3 p.m.
Southern's offense came up with three runs on six hits, however the pitching staff issued a tied season-high five walks - which led to two of Bradley's five runs.
"I don't think we did anything wrong and scored three runs against one of the best pitchers in the Valley," said head coach Kerri Blaylock. "We had a few other opportunities to score a few more, but the thing I was disappointed in was the fact that we average a walk and a half a game, and had five today. When you consistently have to throw the ball over the plate good hitters will make you pay."
Southern Illinois trailed 5-1 and made a valiant comeback attempt in the bottom of the seventh with its backs against the wall.
Senior catcher Jayme Wamsley and freshman first baseman Alicia Junker led-off with back-to-back singles, and sophomore Chelsea Held walked to load the bases with no outs against Bradley starter Ashley Birdsong.
A batter later with one out, junior Alicia Garza drove in a run on a fielder's choice to cut into the deficit 5-2.
During Wagner's at-bat on a 1-1 pitch, Birdsong balked to score another run and allowed for the game-tying runner to move up to second base.
With runners on second and third and two outs, Birdsong caught a rocketed line-drive that could not have been hit any harder by Wagner to end the game.
"Our kids fought all day long and they believed they could get it done, "Blaylock said. "They did it the last time they faced Ashley (Birdsong) with the game-winning grand slam, and I really don't fault our offense because we did some good things."
The caught liner exemplified a game that had multiple breaks go against the Salukis in key offensive situations, although SIU started strong in the second inning.
In the midst of a scoreless game, Wagner drilled a 0-2 pitch over the left centerfield fence to give Southern Illinois a 1-0 lead.
Wagner's third homer of the season continued her season-long hit streak to six games, but only gave SIU the lead for a moment after Bradley responded immediately in the top of the third.
Saluki starter Danielle Glosson walked two batters, and with one out Alycia Bachkora hit a three-run home run to left field to give the Braves a 3-1 advantage with one swing of the bat.
It was Bradley's first hit, and knocked Glosson out of the game for sophomore Nikki Waters.
Southern Illinois had a golden opportunity to regain the lead with the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the fourth, and had two runners on in the fifth, but the could not come up with a crucial hit to overcome Bradley's lead.
"Those (scoring opportunities) sting a little, but when you have a quality pitcher on the mound (Birdsong) sometimes she's going to strike people out, or sometimes we'll get the best of her," Blaylock said. "She did a good job today but I don't discredit our offense today."
Following SIU's back-to-back scoring chances, Bradley came up with two insurance runs, which proved to be the difference.
Waters had only allowed one hit in relief, but gave up back-to-back singles to start the sixth.
Then with one out, Anne Creighton, who hit her first career home run Thursday against Northern Iowa, followed with a two-run double over the head of Held in shallow center field to put Bradley up 5-1 and in a more comfortable position to win.
Glosson took the loss and fell to 9-7, while Birdsong won her eighth-straight game to improve to 18-10.
Southern Illinois will await the announcement of the 2009 NCAA Tournament field broadcasted on ESPNU at 9 p.m. CT on Sunday to see if they will receive an at-large bid into one of the 16 regionals.