The Saluki softball team traveled to Florida for the third week in a row and left with three wins after the weekend’s NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Fla.
The Salukis (7-8) came off of a disappointing tournament last weekend when they lost four out of five games, which included a loss to No. 1 Alabama and suffering a perfect game against Georgia Southern.
However, SIU rebounded this weekend with three close victories. One was an upset win over No. 14 South Florida.
The Salukis defeated the University of California-Davis 8-7 in their first Leadoff Classic game before upseting South Florida 5-4 in their second match of the day.
SIU sophomore pitcher Alyssa Wunderlich started on the mound but couldn’t develop a rhythm against UC Davis’ consistent bats.
The Aggies stormed out the gate and scored two runs in the first inning. They added another two in the third to lead the game 4-1 at the end of three innings.
SIU’s bats came alive in the fourth inning as the Salukis scored four runs to take a one-run lead. Senior pitcher Brittney Lang replaced Wunderlich in the fifth inning and gave up three runs, but the Salukis offense helped steal the win as they scored another four runs to win by one.
Senior outfielder Morgan Barchan went 3-3 at the plate and junior infielder Jayna Spivey drove in five Saluki runs.
SIU continued its momentum as the team beat No. 14 South Florida 5-4 in game two of the outing.
Coach Kerri Blaylock said in a Saluki Athletics release that she was impressed with her team’s performance.
“Any time you beat a ranked opponent, especially a College World Series team from last year with the kid on the mound who took them there, that is something,” she said.
The Salukis showed patience at the plate and used timely hits to beat the Bulls and balance their season record at 6-6. Lang recorded the win and raised her record to 5-3.
“Props to our offense,” Blaylock said. “They had great aggressive base-running plays and kept coming after them. We had a really tough schedule today and are really fortunate to get two wins.”
SIU dropped day two in Florida and came away with losses against the University of Massachusetts and the University of Central Florida. The Salukis scored three runs in the first inning their 4-3 defeat against U Mass, but they couldn’t manufacture another run for the rest of the game.
“I thought we started off really well,” Blaylock said. “We attacked them early and then offensively we went into a lull.”
SIU recorded one hit for the rest of the game, and U Mass used a four-run fourth inning to seal the victory.Freshman infielder Kelsey Gonzalez earned Southern Illinois’ only two hits.
The Salukis’ offensive struggles continued in the nightcap as UCF beat them 5-2 for the team’s second consecutive loss.
Central Florida scored two runs in the third inning and another three in the top of the seventh to take a five-run advantage. The Salukis scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to potentially threaten Central Florida’s lead, but they failed as Central Florida held them off with a late-inning rally.
“We came out and gave too many at-bats away in the middle innings,” Blaylock said. “We have to learn how to be consistent throughout the game offensively and pitching as well.”
Barchan batted 3-4 in the Saluki loss.
SIU completed the NFCA Leadoff Classic with a 7-5 win over Hofstra to finish the weekend 3-2. The Salukis scored seven runs off of nine hits against Hofstra’s star pitcher Olivia Galati.
“Olivia Galati is a tremendous pitcher, and Hofstra is a Super Regional team so I am super pleased with how we performed today,” Blaylock said.
Wunderlich and Lang each pitched well for the Salukis as Wunderlich (2-4) snagged the win and Lang recorded her second save of the season.
The Salukis will make their 2013 home debut Saturday and Sunday, when they host the Coach B Classic at Charlotte West Stadium.
“We came through a really tough part of our schedule, and we beat a College World Series team and Super Regional team so we are really ready to settle in at home and start competing,” Blaylock said.