SIU looks for MVC Tournament revenge

By Gus Bode

Almost a year ago today, the SIU softball team was standing on the threshold of winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

After narrowly shutting out Wichita State 1-0, Creighton was the last team to stand in the Salukis’ way. What promised to be a heated battle between the top-seeded teams quickly became a disappointment for the Salukis.

Amy Harre, a junior at the time, made two throwing errors in the bottom of the first inning, which resulted in a quick 2-0 Bluejay lead. Creighton would add another three runs in the sixth inning off five hits and a sac fly.


Meanwhile, the SIU offense struggled against Creighton’s Tammy Nielsen, who cruised to a five-hit shutout of the Salukis with 10 strikeouts in the process.

Nielsen was named the tournament MVP, and the Bluejays enjoyed a 5-0 victory over SIU at Charlotte West Stadium-Rochman Field. To make matters worse, the game was also televised on Fox Sports Net, and there was a record-crowd of 598 fans on hand.

“It was terrible,” SIU head coach Kerri Blaylock said. “It wasn’t indicative of the team we were or the teams we had played. We just had a bad game; there’s no other way to say it.”

Although the Salukis lost the Valley Tournament, thus negating an automatic entry into the NCAA Tournament, they still received an at-large bid. Blaylock was not surprised, saying at-large bids are awarded to teams with the total package and do not hinge on one game.

Now, almost 12 months later, SIU, for the second year in a row, has won the regular-season Valley title. Once again, the Salukis (46-10, 24-3 MVC) are the top seed in the tournament, held at Wilkins Stadium in Wichita, Kan. The total package Blaylock spoke of still obviously exists, only now it has some different wrapping.

Some seniors have left and some freshmen have come in and had a tremendous impact. SIU has won a school-record 46 games, 24 of which were Valley victories, setting another record for both SIU and the conference.

Losing that game against Creighton apparently did not set the Salukis back.


But that also doesn’t mean it has been forgotten. Blaylock said the team will not be dredging up the past, but senior Maria Damico said the experience will certainly provide some motivation for this year’s red-hot Salukis.

“I don’t think any of us want to experience the same thing we did last year,” Damico said. “So far, we’ve had a great season against all the teams in the conference. I don’t see why this tournament should be any different.”

After receiving the first seed, the Salukis will have a bye at the tournament, which begins Thursday. The small break will give them a chance to watch the game between Drake and Southwest Missouri State, the game that determines SIU’s first opponent.

Should SIU win its first game, another batch of possible opponents will be opened up. It could be Wichita State (No. 2 seed), Illinois State (No. 6 seed) or the No. 3 seeded Bluejays.

But, as always, Blaylock isn’t concerned with bridges to be crossed in the future. The first task is taking care of the Bears or the Bulldogs, two teams the Salukis had success against during the regular season.

SIU swept SMS and took two of three from Drake, so the Salukis look safe in their first tournament outing Thursday afternoon. Still, regardless of seeds and speculation, the slate has been wiped clean for the Valley teams battling in the tournament.

It is the allure of athletics in general:anything can, and will, happen.

“It’s all out the window,” Blaylock said. “Personally, I wouldn’t want to play us right now, but you still have to go play the game.”

That was the closest Blaylock has come to making a prediction. Not one for idle conjecture, she has reason to expect a different outcome from last season’s. All one has to do is look at the Salukis’ record for evidence. Damico, for one, is anticipating an event she has waited for.

“I think right now, we’re ready to go,” Damico said. “Four years we haven’t won the tournament, so for the seniors it would be awesome.”

Reporter Gabe House can be reached at [email protected]