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Saluki softball finishes sweep of Drake with doubleheader victories

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Saluki freshman second baseman Maddy Vermejan celebrates her RBI double as Bulldog sophomore second baseman Kennedy Frank walks away Sunday, March 26, 2017, in the fourth inning of SIU's 6-2 victory against Drake in the first game of its doubleheader at Charlotte West Stadium. (Sean Carley | @SeanMCarley)

Saluki freshman second baseman Maddy Vermejan celebrates her RBI double as Bulldog sophomore second baseman Kennedy Frank walks away Sunday, March 26, 2017, in the fourth inning of SIU's 6-2 victory against Drake in the first game of its doubleheader at Charlotte West Stadium. (Sean Carley | @SeanMCarley)

Saluki freshman second baseman Maddy Vermejan celebrates her RBI double as Bulldog sophomore second baseman Kennedy Frank walks away Sunday, March 26, 2017, in the fourth inning of SIU's 6-2 victory against Drake in the first game of its doubleheader at Charlotte West Stadium. (Sean Carley | @SeanMCarley)

By Sean Carley

In January, the Drake Bulldogs were picked as the Missouri Valley Conference preseason favorites. On Sunday, SIU finished a series sweep of the favorites with a pair of victories.

The two wins moved Southern (17-14) to 5-1 in the MVC to tie it with Illinois State, its next Valley opponent on Saturday.

“You can tell [Drake] is talented offensively,” SIU coach Kerri Blaylock said after the doubleheader. “They didn’t give up, they came at us. … It was really good to get a sweep.”

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The Saluki offense was out in full force in the morning game, racking up 10 hits in a 6-2 victory.

The Bulldogs decided not to pitch around Saluki senior first baseman Shaye Harre — who leads the conference in walks with 28 entering Sunday, 11 more than the next closest player — and she made them pay for it with a two-run home run in the first inning to give SIU a 2-0 lead.

Drake rebounded in the fourth inning with two runs of its own. The inning started with two singles, both of which advanced a base during a poor defensive decision on the latter hit, after which sophomore pitcher Nicole Doyle came in.

The two runs scored came on a two-RBI single from freshman left fielder Abby Buie. That would be the only hit Doyle allowed in the game as she picked up the win to move her record to 5-5 on the season.

SIU got the lead right back in the bottom of the inning as freshman second baseman Maddy Vermejan started her hot day at the plate with an RBI double.

Senior catcher Jessa Thomas, left, junior third baseman Sydney Jones and junior shortstop Savannah Fisher and celebrate scoring Sunday, March 26, 2017, in the fourth inning of SIU’s 6-2 victory against Drake in the first game of its doubleheader at Charlotte West Stadium. (Sean Carley | @SeanMCarley)

In the fifth, Drake pitched at Harre again and she made the Bulldogs regret it again as she launched her second two-run home run of the game. Latter that inning, Vermejan picked up her second RBI of the game with another single to score senior center fielder Merri Anne Patterson who scored thanks to some savvy baserunning to take the extra base.

“The first baseman had to stretch out so long, so they probably didn’t think I was going to go,” Patterson said. “Even if they did, she was basically in the split position so she basically had no shot … so I was like ‘I might, as well try it, we’re ahead anyway.'”

Drake brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh after Doyle and sophomore Brianna Jones loaded the bases, but Drake junior third baseman Tasha Alexander popped out to end the game.

Drake freshman shortstop Mandi Roemmich slides under the tag of SIU freshman second baseman Maddy Vermejan on Sunday, March 26, 2017, in the fifth inning of SIU’s 6-2 victory against Drake in the first game of its doubleheader at Charlotte West Stadium. (Sean Carley | @SeanMCarley)

The second game had a similar final score at 6-1, but Blaylock said she still wasn’t satisfied with her team.

“I was disappointed with how we played the second game,” she said. “We have to learn how to play three games. I’m very happy with the win but I hope we learn a lesson from this.”

SIU’s offense started off hot again, picking up two runs in the first inning.

Blaylock moved Vermejan into the No. 2 spot in the lineup and she delivered with Harre and Patterson to provide a great 1-2-3 punch for SIU in the game. Vermejan and Harre both walked in the inning, and were brought home on Patterson’s first RBI double of the game to give SIU a 2-0 lead.

Over the last two weekends, Vermejan has been one of SIU’s most consistent hitters, batting .538 in the two conference series so far with a team-high .692 slugging percentage. She said her uptick in production came in part thanks to a tweak in her swing introduced by assistant coach Jen Sewell to open up her batting stance.

Junior pitcher Savanna Dover delivers a throw Sunday, March 26, 2017, during SIU’s 6-2 victory against Drake in the first game of the Salukis’ doubleheader at Charlotte West Stadium. (Sean Carley | @SeanMCarley)

Drake cut the lead in half the next inning after sophomore catcher Taryn Pena was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and came around to score on a fielding error by SIU freshman shortstop Kyleigh Decker.

From that inning on, Saluki starter Brianna Jones was dealing. She pitched her second complete game of the weekend, allowing just the one run on three hits and striking out four.

Blaylock’s dissatisfaction came from the middle innings, when SIU failed to get a hit from the second inning until the fifth.

“We weren’t patient,” she said. “We didn’t have good at-bats. We were popping up a lot and we should square the ball up better. It’s about the focus of finishing the game and that’s what we need to learn. If we do, I think we can contend.”

Drake sophomore catcher Taryn Pena slides back into first base, evading the tag of SIU senior first baseman Shaye Harre on Sunday, March 26, 2017, in the second inning of SIU’s 6-1 victory against Drake in the second game of its doubleheader at Charlotte West Stadium. (Sean Carley | @SeanMCarley)

In the fifth, the two through four hitters did their best to finish the game as Vermejan started the inning with a double. Then Harre drew her third walk of the game to bring up Patterson in nearly the exact same situation as the first inning. She produced the same result as well, bringing them both home with a double off the wall to push the lead to 4-1.

But the offense didn’t stop there as Sydney Jones followed with an RBI single and junior left fielder Savannah Fisher was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to bring in two more runs, leading to the final score.

Southern has won seven of its last eight games and will try to keep the momentum alive at 4 p.m. Wednesday when SIUE comes to Charlotte West Stadium.

Sports reporter Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SeanMCarley.

To stay up to date with all your SIU news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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