Any hope the Salukis had of winning the Missouri Valley Conference championship was quickly crushed by the Redbirds as they jumped to an early eight-run lead.
SIU (36-20, 16-10 MVC) fell 13-3 to Illinois State (35-21, 18-18 MVC) in the championship game Saturday after upsetting top-seed Northern Iowa (38-16, 21-4 MVC) 1-0 in the semifinal game Friday during the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at Charlotte West Stadium.
With the score tied at 0 in the top of the fifth, sophomore catcher Allie VadeBoncouer hit her eighth homerun of the season, which would carry the Salukis to the championship game.
Junior pitcher Brittney Lang went six innings and threw her fourth shutout this season for her 11th win. She allowed two hits and two walks with three strikeouts. Freshman pitcher Katie Bertelsen pitched a scoreless seventh inning and recorded her fifth save of the season.
Lang said she knows she had a great defense behind her and that they came out for a win.
“Brittney threw a great game and (Bertelsen) did a great job of coming in to close the game,” said coach Kerri Blaylock. “I thought we had really good at-bats off of (UNI pitcher Jamie) Fisher all day long and Allie came up with a big hit, so it was a really positive day.”
Lang battled against Fisher, the MVC Pitcher of the Year, who shutout the Salukis twice April 28-29. Bradley’s homerun was one of three given up by Fisher, whose record dropped to 20-4.
The win advanced the Salukis to the championship game for the second time in three years and the fifth time in SIU history after advancing in 1990, 2004, 2007 and 2010.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time like we’ve done all year and we’re not done yet,” Blaylock said. “We just want to live to play another day.”
After winning two of three games against Illinois State March 31-April 1, Saturday’s championship game seemed to whiplash the Salukis as the Redbirds gained an early lead. The Redbirds hit three three-run homeruns in the first three innings while the Salukis managed one run in the second, giving Illinois State a 9-1 lead by the top of the fourth.
The Salukis cycled through all three pitchers by the bottom of the third in an effort to break through the Redbirds’ offense. Blaylock said she felt some regret for taking Lang out so early instead of allowing her to settle in for a few innings.
Lang earned the loss, ending the season with an 11-7 record.
“I think you have to give a lot of credit to Illinois State and the way they came out today,” Blaylock said. “They were swinging right off the bat and they outplayed us in that aspect.”
The Salukis had 10 hits in the game including two hits each from VadeBoncouer, freshman outfielder Meredith Wilson and sophomore infielder Jayna Spivey.
While finishing second was not the goal, VadeBoncouer said it was still something to be proud of.
“The thing I’m most proud of is that our kids fought until the very end and did not quit,” Blaylock said. “Every inning we tried to put people on and do something so I was proud of them for that.”
Blaylock said as the fourth seed, they had to fight their way through the first two games against quality opponents and she was proud they made it to the championship.
The 13 runs scored by the Redbirds is the record for the most runs ever in a championship game and put a cap on the Salukis’ 2012 season.
Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Mallory Duran-Sellers went 1-for-3 with a walk in her final game for the Salukis, bringing her total drawn walks to 45, which ties Katie Jordan for SIU’s single season record.
VadeBoncouer, Spivey, and junior outfielder Michelle Bradley were also named to the All-Tournament team for their performances.