May 8, 2014
By John Lock
NORMAL, Ill. - The Southern Illinois softball team saw its season come to an end with a 6-1 loss to Loyola on Thursday night at Marian Kneer Stadium. SIU ends the season at 28-24 after the quarterfinal loss in the MVC Tournament.
Loyola (24-30) got the early lead on a Lauren Moore home run in the first inning, but Southern came right back to tie it in the bottom half of the opening frame when Kalyn Harker scored from second on an error by the shortstop.
From there, the star of the show was 2014 MVC Pitcher of the Year Brittany Gardner. The Loyola ace had already pitched a complete-game shutout earlier in the day to get the Ramblers into the matchup with the Salukis. Facing Drake, the senior pitched a four-hit shutout to advance her team to the quarterfinal matchup.
Gardner--who was the Horizon League Pitcher of the Year in 2013 before earning the same honor from the MVC this year--limited the Salukis to just three infield singles and showed no fatigue in pitching her second game of the day.
"You have to give credit to (Gardner)," head coach Kerri Blaylock said. "If you look at the Valley statistics, she had beaten everyone but us, and a lot of people she beat on the first day. We were fortunate to (beat) her two times (during the regular season), but against a pitcher like that, she got us tonight. That's all I can say."
Coming into the game, Southern's primary advantage appeared to be base runners; Loyola issued 44 more walks than anyone in the Valley this year and SIU drew 30 more walks than the MVC field while posting the league's highest on-base percentage. SIU walked twice in the first and once more in the second. After that, Loyola's second-team All-MVC catcher Tarran Shaffer used a bevy of tricks and frames to give Gardner the extra inches on the outside corner she needed. SIU walked only once more, while Gardner struck out four in the last five innings.
The No. 3-seeded Salukis failed to win at least one game in the MVC Tournament for the first time since 2009 after falling to the seventh-seeded Ramblers, who advanced to tomorrow's semifinal in their first MVC Tournament appearance. Loyola will face off with Illinois State at 2:35 p.m.
The loss marks the end of the road for one of the most decorated senior classes in school history. The five-member class of Kelsea Ashton, Michelle Glenn, Taylor Orsburn, Jayna Spivey and Allie VadeBoncouer conclude their careers with 125 career wins and their names all over SIU's record books.
"(The loss) is just disappointing because of who I'm coaching," Blaylock said. "We've made such strides in getting this program back in the right direction to where we can compete for a conference title. I love the seniors like daughters. That's what's disappointing. I hate to see it end because of them."