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Otahks' split ends skid
It wasn't exactly what Southeast Missouri State University coach Lana Richmond wanted, but at least her squad broke a nine-game losing streak.
The Otahkians opened Ohio Valley Conference play Thursday against visiting Eastern Illinois intent on sweeping a doubleheader against one of the teams predicted to finish toward the bottom of the standings.
After EIU won the opener 4-1, the Otahkians had to adjust their goal but at least they salvaged a split, prevailing 3-2 for their first win in the last 10 games.
Southeast is 6-21 overall. EIU is 9-20 overall and 1-4 in the OVC.
"We really wanted to sweep, but this was the second game of the new season, and now we're .500," Richmond said following the second game. "We've got to make a statement in these first seven conference games that we have at home. They're crucial for us."
Southeast hosts Tennessee State in a three-game weekend series, starting with Saturday's 1 p.m. doubleheader, and has a Wednesday home doubleheader with Austin Peay. The Tigers and Governors are also picked to lag toward the bottom of the OVC standings.
EIU got the upper hand Thursday by breaking a 1-1 tie in the opener with a three-run seventh inning.
But the Otahkians recovered in the finale, building a 3-0 lead through four innings and holding on.
Sophomore Jessica Hunter, who entered the day winless despite a respectable 2.64 earned-run average, finally notched her first victory of the season. Hunter (1-6) allowed five hits and two runs in 4 2/3 innings.
"It was fun and I'm real happy," Hunter said. "But other people got my back, and they all played well in the field."
Melissa Van Velkinburgh relieved Hunter and worked 1 2/3 shutout innings, allowing two hits. Kelly Birk came in with two on and one out in the seventh and got a strikeout and ground out to earn her first save.
Southeast had nine second-game hits, led by Victoria Torrez and freshman Lindsay Pickering with two apiece. Andrea Darnell went 3-for-3 to lead EIU's seven-hit attack.
Panthers strike lateBirk (2-7), who has also pitched in plenty of tough luck this season, was the first-game loser after EIU touched her for three runs on four hits in the seventh. Birk, who gave up seven hits total, entered Thursday with a solid 2.15 ERA.
"Kelly and Jessica have both pitched in a lot of tough luck," Richmond said.
EIU's seventh began harmlessly as the first two batters were retired. But pinch-hitter Cassandra North doubled and scored the go-ahead run on Kristin Lovering's double. Kelly McMahon followed with an RBI single and Mandy Lindwall delivered an RBI double.
Darnell, a freshman, pitched all seven innings for the Panthers, allowing six hits.
Lindwall had three of EIU's seven second-game hits. Six players had one hit for the Otahkians. Torrez and Pickering both finished the day with three hits.
"I have to hand it to Eastern Illinois. They got all their runs and hits in the seventh with two outs," Richmond said. "Now we have to focus on Tennessee State."