Saluki softball ready for showdown at UNI

By Gus Bode

The SIU softball team is deadlocked in an early three-way tie for second place in the Missouri Valley Conference. And with a three-game set scheduled against first-place Northern Iowa, the No. 20 Salukis could assert themselves early in the conference season as one of the Valley’s best.

Northern Iowa (17-6, 3-0 MVC) hosts SIU (17-4, 2-1) in a series that features a battle between good hitting and equally good pitching.

The Panthers rank second in the MVC in team batting average (.305) and on-base percentage (.382). Northern Iowa leads the Valley in total bases, compiling 305, including a conference best 19 home runs and 35 doubles.

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‘I hope our pitching can neutralize their hitting,’ Saluki head coach Kerri Blaylock said. ‘If we stick with pitching and defense and let our hitting come along, good things are going to happen.’

SIU counters the Panthers’ solid offense with the Valley’s best pitching staff. The Salukis boast an earned run average of 1.43, eight shutouts and has racked up 162 strikeouts in 142 innings. While Saluki pitchers Danielle Glosson, Katie McNamara and Nikki Wilson continue to punch out opposing batters, they also are limiting their free passes at the same time.

SIU’s pitchers have allowed only 39 walks this season, the third fewest in the MVC.

The Panthers will go into the series having played Big 12 opponents Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and Glosson said with that in consideration, SIU needs to be prepared for Northern Iowa’s best shot.

‘I know they’re going to be ready, and that just makes us more amped up and we need to be ready to go,’ Glosson said.

SIU has not played since taking two of three games against Drake in the Salukis’ first home series of the conference season.

After losing the conference opener, SIU bested the Bulldogs, 2-1 and 3-0, in the series’ final two games.

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Senior third baseman Katie Wagner said the team learned a valuable lesson from the conference season’s first three games. Now, the challenge is carrying that momentum into the next series.

‘We just are going to have to challenge ourselves to make sure that we’re ready and that we’re prepared and take care of business every time,’ Wagner said. ‘Whenever other teams are playing well, you want to step up to their level.’

Blaylock said she expects a tough series from the Panthers, especially on their home turf. The Saluki head coach said the upstart Northern Iowa club is similar to a team she coached not too long ago.

‘They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder,’ Blaylock said. ‘They remind me of us a few years back ‘- not a lot of respect and going out there and getting the job done.’

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