Salukis fight for NCAA bid at home

By Gus Bode

The SIU softball team will try to accomplish a feat no team in the Missouri Valley Conference has done: win a championship while hosting the conference tournament.

After wrapping up their regular season Sunday, the Salukis return home to host the Missouri Valley Conference tournament beginning Thursday. The last time the Salukis took home the tournament championship was in 1991.

This season marks the second time in four years SIU will be the host team and is its third time overall. But the Salukis will have their work cut out for them as no host team has won a title in the 25-year history of championship play.

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Also at stake for SIU is a sixth-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, which will likely only be gained with a MVC Tournament championship.

The Salukis (30-23, 15-8) will be the No. 3 seed behind regular-season champion Creighton and No. 2 Illinois State, but coach Kerri Blaylock isn’t disappointed, especially after early season injuries set the team back.

“After everything we’ve been through, I told the kids that they really persevered and to finish third that was really a good job on their part,” Blaylock said.

In preseason polls, the Salukis were picked to finish third behind Creighton and Wichita State.

SIU is led by senior first baseman Lauren Haas who is coming off an 8-for-10 weekend performance where she extended her hit streak to a career-best nine games and improved her batting average to .396 with 13 doubles and seven home runs on the season.

Haas said a No. 3 seed in the tournament is a good spot for the team especially after a season where the Salukis will likely need a conference championship to receive a bid in the NCAA Tournament.

“With the way we were kind of playing early in the season, we could have totally tanked and we could not be in the tournament,” Haas said.

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The tournament kicks off at noon Thursday with No. 5 Wichita State and No. 8 Indiana State squaring off in game one and No. 6 Evansville and No. 7 Missouri State facing off in game two.

Drake will play the winner of game one at 4 p.m. and the Salukis will play the winner of game two at 6:30 p.m.

Tournament play will conclude Saturday with the championship game set for 1:30 p.m.

Megan Kramper can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 256 or [email protected]

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