Daily Egyptian

SIU’s run for MVC title over after emotional loss

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

SIU softball’s best season since 2012 came to an end Friday evening.

Wichita State defeated SIU 7-5 in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. The Dawgs finished the year at 33-19.

“We made a couple mistakes and I just asked the kids to keep fighting and play for each other and they did,” Saluki coach Kerri Blaylock said. “They’re such a great group of kids.”

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The loss came after defeating Missouri State earlier in the day by a score of 4-3.

SIU had a chance to take the lead in the sixth inning after scoring two to trim Wichita’s lead in half, but were unable to string together any baserunners in the final frame.

Emotions were compounded on both sides by the umpiring behind the plate.

Blaylock and WSU coach Kristi Bredbenner were given warnings by home plate umpire Joe Havenhill on separate instances in the later stages of the game for voicing their concerns over what coaches thought was a varying strike zone.

Blaylock said she didn’t want to comment on the officiating, but thought sophomore pitcher Savanna Dover (9-8, 3.44 ERA) threw “pretty well” despite walking five batters.

The two teams combined to walk 10 players throughout the game.

“He was a little inconsistent, but he was inconsistent on both sides,” Bredbenner said. “That’s tough because we can’t control it, the girls can’t control it. They can just swing at balls they like and keep their zone the same.”

Havenhill immediately walked off the field after the final out, avoiding Blaylock and assistant coach Jen Sewell after the game.

Multiple Saluki players had a tough time holding their emotions while walking off the field after the game.

“I told them that I loved them, they were great to be around,” Blaylock said. “I told them ‘I’m sorry,’ I wished we could’ve gone further.”

The loss marked the end of the Saluki softball careers of seniors Kelsey Gonzalez, Caylee Cook and Taylor Harris.

Gonzalez went 3-7 across the two games with two runs scored despite playing through pain for almost half her career.

“I just want everyone in the world to know that Kelsey Gonzalez has been playing with a partial tear in her rotator cuff for two years,” Blaylock said. “That kid has been phenomenal and been a leader and I couldn’t say anything for two years because I didn’t want anyone to take advantage of her arm.”

Cook went 0-2 with two walks and an RBI while Harris appeared in both games as a pinch runner.

SIU will return eight starters and all three pitchers next season, along with five incoming freshmen to round out the roster.

“I want those five incoming freshmen next year to come in and get some good leadership with [junior catcher] Jessa [Thomas] and [junior first baseman] Shaye [Harre] and those guys,” Blaylock said.

The MVC tournament championship game starts at 1 p.m. Saturday between Wichita State and the winner of Friday night’s game between Illinois State and Drake.

Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307.

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