Southeast softball wins opener in OVC tourney

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Southeast Missouri State softball team captured its Ohio Valley Conference tournament opener in dramatic fashion to extend the program's second-longest winning streak.

Sophomore Carmen Fowler's two-out, walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday gave Southeast a 1-0 victory over Morehead State in Jacksonville, Ala.

Southeast, seeded second for the six-team event, advances to today's 3 p.m. winners bracket final against fifth-seeded Tennessee Tech, which upset top-seeded Jacksonville State 5-2.

"It's huge to win that first one after we went in with the [opening-round] bye," said Southeast coach Lana Richmond, whose squad improved to 28-19.

The Redhawks extended their winning streak to 16, which ties the 1998 team for No. 2 on the all-time list. No. 1 is the 1996 squad, which won 32 straight.

Southeast and third-seeded Morehead State (35-19) were locked in a scoreless duel entering the bottom of the seventh.

With one out, second-team all-OVC sophomore Nicole Troncoso doubled and freshman Sirena Watkins from Central High School came on to pinch-run.

Watkins was still on second base with two outs when Fowler singled to left field as Watkins scored the winning run.

"It was a great game, well played and well pitched by both teams," said Richmond, the OVC co-coach of the year. "It was just a matter of who was going to get the key hit."

Pitcher Giana Zimmerman continued her brilliant freshman season with a two-hit shutout as she won her 11th straight decision.

Zimmerman (18-8), a second-team all-OVC hurler, struck out two and did not issue a walk as she fired her 21st compete game in 25 starts.

"Giana just pitched a great game and her defense played well behind her," Richmond said.

Southeast had only four hits off first-team all-OVC pitcher Alex Gjevre, who struck out four and walked one.

Juniors Alex Ramirez and Elise Sperakos had Southeast's other hits.

Ramirez, a second-team all-OVC catcher, continued her strong defensive season by throwing out two runners attempting to steal.

"Alex threw out a key runner in the very first inning trying to steal third and that ended the inning," Richmond said. "She's been solid defensively all year."

Now the Redhawks will gear up for Tennessee Tech, an opponent they didn't expect to see in the winners bracket final.

Defending tournament champion Jacksonville State romped to its second straight OVC regular-season title, capturing the crown by 4 1/2 games over runner-up Southeast, and was considered the heavy tournament favorite.

But Tech (26-29) sent the Gamecocks into the losers bracket of the double-elimination event.

"That was a big upset, but Tech had a good day," said Richmond, noting that the Eagles beat Tennessee-Martin 1-0 before stunning the Gamecocks.

Tech won a three-game series at Southeast in late March, romping 13-0 and 6-1 after dropping the opener 3-2.

Those two defeats started the Redhawks' 11-game losing streak that was followed immediately by their current winning streak.

"Tech will be a tough team, but we feel really good about the way we're playing," Richmond said.

A win today by the Redhawks sends them into Saturday's 12:30 p.m. championship round, where they would need to win just once to claim the title.

If the Redhawks lose today, they'll play at 10 a.m. Saturday in an elimination contest and then would need two more victories to capture the crown.

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