Daily Egyptian

Salukis go out in style on Senior Day

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

Three Salukis are going out as winners in their final act.

Saluki softball shut out Northern Iowa on Senior Day Sunday 2-0 to clinch a 30-win season for the first time since 2012.

Seniors Kelsey Gonzalez, Caylee Cook and Taylor Harris all played in their final regular season game at Charlotte West Stadium.

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“It was a huge win and series win today,” Gonzalez said. “It was definitely a good way to celebrate my Senior Day and final season.”

Gonzalez went 1-3 in the game before being escorted by her parents, Mark and Joni Gonzalez, onto the field after the game where head coach Kerri Blaylock gave an emotional speech to her three graduating seniors.

Gonzalez said emotions began to flow during the speech after the game.

“It was a weird feeling because we still have a couple weeks left,” she said. “It’s definitely kind of winding down and as it is, I’m really realizing it more and more.”

MORE: Gonzalez ending career on a high note | SIU splits MVC doubleheader with Northern Iowa

SIU (30-17, 13-9 Missouri Valley Conference) will host the MVC tournament beginning May 12, so the senior Salukis aren’t quite done at Charlotte West Stadium. 

While the seniors were the story of the game, freshman pitcher Brianna Jones (21-10, 1.80 ERA) provided quite the subplot, pitching her MVC-leading 10th shutout this season.

Jones allowed four hits and struck out eight.

Saluki pitching was dominant all weekend against arguably the toughest competition it has seen this season.

The Panthers lead the MVC in runs scored (303), hits (422) and home runs (58) entering Sunday and Saluki pitchers held them to one run, 11 hits and zero home runs all weekend.

The Panthers were inches away from a home run until junior center fielder Merri Anne Patterson caught a fly ball, crashing into the wall in the process.

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“My offensive game was struggling and it has been all season,” Patterson said. “So the one thing I needed to be consistent in was my defense, and that’s the one way I can help this team. If that’s my role, then that’s my role.”

After Saturday’s split doubleheader, Blaylock said her top-four hitters in the lineup can be counted on after a strong season.

They produced again on Sunday as the quartet of Gonzalez, freshman left fielder Eyrika Brandenburg, sophomore infielder Sydney Jones and junior first baseman Shaye Harre each had a hit.

Brandenburg, Jones and Harre strung together three consecutive hits in the first inning to score the game’s first run against UNI starter Chelsea Ross (15-7, 2.34 ERA).

After shutting out the Salukis on Saturday, Ross had not allowed a run to SIU since March 15, 2014 — 778 days ago.

The Salukis tallied a second run in the fifth inning when sophomore second baseman Savannah Fisher hit a deep home run to left field and was doused with water as she jumped on home plate.

“Fish’s home run was huge because it gave us some separation from [UNI],” Blaylock said.

SIU has now won five of its last six games and is a single game out of second place in the MVC.

The Dawgs will head to Evansville for a midweek matchup Wednesday before heading west to MVC leader Wichita State for the season-finale series against the Shockers Saturday and Sunday.

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

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