Southeast Missouri State University freshman left fielder Stephanie Mata came into the Southeast Softball Classic struggling at the plate with a batting average of just .111.
But Mata is struggling no longer. She belted her second home run of the tournament -- and her Southeast career -- during Saturday's 8-4 win over Iowa State that helped make up for a 6-5 loss to Valparaiso earlier in the day.
The Otahkians (3-6) are 1-2 in the tournament. The six-team, round-robin event concludes today with six games at the Southeast Softball Complex. Southeast plays Indiana State at 10 a.m. and Bradley at 2 p.m.
Bradley (8-8) has won all three of its tournament games so far. Southwest Missouri State (12-10) is 2-1 while Valparaiso (3-5), Iowa State (3-12) and Indiana State (11-9) are all 1-2.
Mata, from Wheeling, Ill., had two hits against Iowa State and three on the day, giving her four hits in the tournament. She entered the tourney with just two hits in 18 at-bats but now has the team lead in home runs.
"I struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season. I'm glad to get out of my rut," Mata said. "I'm definitely pleased to hit two home runs."
And the Otahkians were pleased to post a victory in the tournament after suffering two tough defeats, including Friday's 5-3 loss to Southwest Missouri State in nine innings.
"It feels great to finally take one," Mata said. "We've been so close in so many games."
Southeast coach Lana Richmond is excited about her squad's offense -- the Otahkians had 22 hits Saturday and have 30 hits in the tournament -- but defense continues to be a problem.
The Otahkians had seven errors Saturday after committing two against Southwest Missouri. Valparaiso's winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning was unearned, courtesy of two errors. Six of the 15 runs Southeast has allowed in the tourney have been unearned.
"We're hitting the ball but we just can't seem to close out the game," Richmond said. "We can't make the play defensively, but the positive thing is the kids are really swinging the bats."
Senior shortstop Amy Murphy had two hits in each game Saturday while Mata, junior right fielder/pitcher Kelly Birk and sophomore designated hitter/pitcher Melissa Van Velkinburgh all added three hits in the two contests. Van Velkinburgh drove in four runs.
Junior right-hander Amy Fahnestock continued to impress as she pitched her third straight complete game, a six-hitter against Iowa State. Fahnestock (2-2) struck out four and walked none in seven innings. Two of the Cyclones' runs were unearned.
"Amy really pitched well," Richmond said.
The Otahkians pounded out 13 hits against the Cyclones -- Mata, Murphy, Birk, Van Velkinburgh and senior second baseman Suzi Lair all had two, while Mata and Van Velkinburgh both delivered three RBIs -- as they led 5-1 after three innings and coasted to the victory.
Against Valparaiso, Southeast led 5-2 after three innings before the Crusaders rallied. Brittany Atteberry sparkled in relief as she blanked the Otahkians over the final 4 2/3 innings, allowing three hits. Senior Jessica Hunter (0-3) took the loss although she gave up just two hits and an unearned run in 2 1/3 innings.