SIU softball ready for encore to Sweet season

By Gus Bode

Salukis’ schedule features nine 2003 NCAA Tournament participants

After reaching the Sweet 16 in 2002, the SIU men’s basketball team had trouble getting quality teams to schedule the Salukis. The softball team, fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance of it’s own last season, apparently did not face the same problem.

The Salukis’ 2004 schedule features nine teams that took part in the 2003 NCAA tournament, including four teams that were either ranked or received votes in the final poll.


SIU, which went 39-14 a year ago before losing to Alabama in the Region VIII championship game, also finished the year ranked, taking No. 22 in the final poll.

For SIU head coach Kerri Blaylock and her Salukis, who return 14 players from last year’s squad, getting the early shot at quality teams is something that can be huge when it comes time to pick the 2004 tournament field.

“We tried to get these NCAA tournament teams on our schedule,” Blaylock said in a press release. “Being a mid-major, we have to go out and try to face the best to bump up our RPI and try to get some recognition.”

The Salukis will take part in five different tournaments, with two of them being in Carbondale.

SIU kicks off its season by making its third trip to the Triple Crown Classic in St. Augustine, Fla., where the field includes host Central Florida, Georgia, Boston College, Indiana, Marshall, Jacksonville, Stetson, McNeese State and Bethune-Cookman.

Blaylock said the Salukis have learned to love the Triple Crown Classic since it not only allows the team to escape the cold of Carbondale for the heat of Florida, but it also grants them the opportunity to face quality competition right from the start.

“I think playing the great teams early in the year helped solidify us as an at-large team last season and that’s critical,” Blaylock said. “We also should be able to go toe-to-toe with these teams. We’ve played in a regional final and had that pressure so we should be ready.”


The Salukis next head to the Ole Miss Tournament Feb. 14-15 in Oxford, Miss. This field includes Mississippi, Tulsa, Illinois-Chicago, Indiana State and Tennessee-Martin. Following that is the Kay Brecthelsbauer Southern Classic Feb. 28-29 where Indiana and Indiana State will join SIU.

The tropical paradise of Hononulu, Hawaii, is the next stop as the Salukis take part in the Malihini Tournament March 4-7 which will also feature host Hawaii, Long Beach State, the College of Charleston and Siena.

“We’ve very excited about going to Hawaii for the Malihini Tournament and the great competition that we’ll face,” Blaylock said. “It’s a reward for the kids that bought into coming to SIU.”

The final tournament for SIU is the Saluki Round Robin March 13-14 which will include Kansas, DePaul, Tennessee Tech and Illinois State.

The non-conference slate is a strong one for SIU and includes home games against Southeast Missouri State (Mar. 25) and Saint Louis (April 14) and road contests at Hawaii (Mar. 9), UT-Martin (April 1), Kansas (April 19) and Illinois (April 27).

The Salukis start MVC play March 20 when Northern Iowa comes to town for a three-game series.

Other MVC schools making the trek to Carbondale this year include Evansville (April 7), Illinois State (April 10-11), Creighton (April 24-25) and Indiana State (May 8-9). The Salukis go on the road for matchups against Drake (March 27-28), Southwest Missouri State (April 3-4), Wichita State (April 17-18), Bradley (May 1-2) and a second go-around against Evansville (April 22).

Blaylock said the MVC schedule should be tougher than usual and she hopes the early season tests will pay off.

“Our conference this year is probably the most loaded in the 14 years since I’ve been here,” Blaylock said. “I know that’s a bold prediction, but I truly believe that Illinois State, Creighton, Evansville, Wichita State, SMS and SIU could do something.”

One benefit to the schedule for the team is that SIU will not have to leave the state of Illinois after April 22. The Salukis final 11 regular season games include six home games against Creighton and Indiana State, a two-game series in Champaign against Illinois and a three-game stint against Bradley in Peoria.

In addition to these games, the MVC Tournament will be held at SIU’s Charlotte West Stadium-Rochman Field starting on May 13.

While the Salukis will not get to play meaningful games until February, they will be able to get in some game action before then.

The first chance to play for the Salukis will be during a trifecta of fall tournaments. SIU starts things off with the Saluki Invite on Sept. 13-14. The other two tournaments are the Saint Louis Tournament in Kirkwood, Mo., Sept. 21-22 and the Stone City Tournament in Joliet on Sept. 27-28.

Reporter Jens Deju can be reached at [email protected]