Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Dominant Dawgs: Inside Saluki softball’s statistical supremacy

Saluki+softball+celebrates+with+both+the+regular+season+champions+and+Missouri+Valley+Conference+champions+trophies+after+clinching+a+win+over+Northern+Iowa+in+the+championship+May+11%2C+2024+in+Normal%2C+Illinois.+The+dawgs+earned+their+automatic+bid+to+the+NCAA+tournament+for+the+second+year+in+a+row.+Photo+courtesy+of+Saluki+Athletics
Saluki Athletics
Saluki softball celebrates with both the regular season champions and Missouri Valley Conference champions trophies after clinching a win over Northern Iowa in the championship May 11, 2024 in Normal, Illinois. The dawgs earned their automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. Photo courtesy of Saluki Athletics

Only one word is appropriate to describe 2024 SIU softball team’s run to the NCAA Tournament: dominant.

The Salukis clinched the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title with their win over Murray State on May 4 before storming their way to an MVC tournament title by beating UNI 3-2 on May 11.

The tournament win gave the Dawgs back-to-back MVC tournament titles and marked their third in four seasons. Their performance also guaranteed them a bid in the 2024 NCAA Tournament, which will be the fifteenth such appearance in program history.

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When diving into the numbers, it’s no wonder the Salukis won the title. The Dawgs were at the top of nearly every meaningful statistical category in the MVC as a team, with several individuals ranked at or near the top of almost every category as well. 

The Salukis, led by stalwart shortstop Jackie Lis and freshman phenom ace Maddia Groff,  accrued a record of 42-9, good for a .824 winning percentage. They also received respect from the NCAA’s RPI ranking, which has SIU as the number 52 team in the country at the end of the regular season.

The Dawgs especially dominated in the Valley, where their 23-4 record finished them 3.5 games ahead of second-place UNI. 

It didn’t matter what field the Salukis stepped on; they were remarkably consistent across their regular season schedule, which had them travel as far as Texas and Florida. Charlotte West Stadium was kind to the Salukis, where they compiled a sparkling 15-3 home record. They also went 15-4 on the road and 12-2 in neutral-site games. 

Only two other MVC teams were above .500 in away games, and the Salukis’ two neutral site losses were the fewest in the conference. 

The offense played a massive role in fueling the Salukis. As a team, the Dawgs batted .278, which was second in the Valley by a single point. Along with a .438 slugging percentage, where they also finished second, the Salukis were able to earn a .382 on-base percentage, which led the conference.

Splash plays also made a huge impact.  SIU clubbed 42 home runs and stole 46 bases, both ranking among the top five teams in the MVC.

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While the Salukis ranked fourth in hits, they had the third-fewest at-bats. While it may be puzzling at first, it makes sense considering SIU’s tendency to end games via run rule, which happened 11 times. Their biggest victory came against Evansville, when they bludgeoned the Purple Aces 20-3 on April 13. 

This dominance led the Salukis to miss out on batting in 23 innings, which took away even more chances to boost their already impressive numbers. These games also saved the pitching staff 19 innings of work, though it likely wouldn’t have made much of a difference for opponents considering how efficient SIU’s pitchers were. 

The Salukis faced 56 fewer batters than any other team, which directly translated over to their .194 opposing batting average and 229 hits allowed. Both of these marks were the lowest in the MVC.

It also makes their third-place strikeout ranking, earned by fanning 300 batters, all the more impressive. 

When they weren’t striking out and earning Saluki fans free t-shirts, opposing teams managed to score just 99 runs, making SIU the only team in the MVC that allowed fewer than 100 runs. The next-best team in runs allowed gave up 162.

Shutouts were a key factor in how the Dawgs gave up so few runs. They managed to toss 14, and one in particular held historical significance.

In her first start, which came against former MVC rival Creighton, Groff pitched the first seven-inning perfect game in program history. 

Her record-setting season didn’t stop there. Among other national accolades, Groff has 10th-lowest season ERA in program history (.81), the most wins in a season (29), and logged the sixth-most strikeouts (239), all with at least one postseason game remaining. Groff also led the MVC in ERA, opposing batting average, wins, strikeouts, runs allowed and ERA.

She wasn’t the only Saluki dominating in the circle, though. Senior Madi Eberle ranked sixth in the Valley opposing batting average (.231), ninth in wins (11) and ninth in ERA (2.62).

The Dawgs’ relentless offense also featured many statistical leaders. Entering the postseason, Sidney Jones ranked 15th and 17th in batting average (.324) and OPS (.874) respectively. She is one spot above Rylie Hamilton on the OPS list (.848), and Hamilton also ranked fourth in the MVC in home runs with eight. 

Emma Austin managed to swipe 22 bags in the regular season and get caught only twice, ranking second in the MVC. Her base-stealing prowess lands her in a tie for fifth in program history for most stolen bases in a season. 

Elizabeth Warwick, who earned MVC Tournament Most Valuable Player honors, also landed in the program record book. Warwick hit 20 doubles, which broke her own record for doubles in a season.  She also holds the career mark for doubles with 52.

Then comes Lis, who was arguably the best hitter in the Valley. She ranked first in batting average (.363) and OPS (1.260), second in slugging percentage (.774) and walks (34), third in home runs (16) and sixth in hits (52).

Lis’ performance earned her the regular season Most Valuable Player and First Team All-MVC honors at shortstop. She also cemented her reign in the record books, ranking second in both home runs (16) and total bases (113) in a season only behind her 2023 campaign.

A staple of Lis’ performance is her ability to hit for power, which shows up in slugging and OPS statistics. To this effect, Lis shattered the SIU record for slugging percentage in a season (.774), which is nearly 50 points higher than the second place entry. 

After a wildly successful regular season and conference tournament, the Dawgs will look to carry that momentum on the national stage. Their first test in the Baton Rouge Regional comes on Friday against California at 2:30 p.m., streaming on ESPN+.

Sports reporter Ryan Grieser can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date on all your southern Illinois news, be sure to follow The Daily Egyptian on Facebook and on X @dailyegyptian.

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