NCAA berth eludes Redhawks

Sunday, May 10, 2009
Southeast's Carmen Fowler catches her breath at second base after driving in a run during the first game Saturday in Jacksonville, Ala. (WHITNEY HOWSER ~ For Southeast Missouri State Sports Information)

The softball team lost twice in the OVC tourney title round.

A sensational run for the Southeast Missouri State softball team came to a painful end Saturday in Jacksonville, Ala.

The Redhawks, two outs away from winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament and earning an automatic NCAA tournament berth, instead saw their season end.

Tennessee-Martin hit a game-tying home run in the top of the seventh inning, then scored an unearned run in the eighth inning to hand Southeast its first tournament loss, 3-2.

The fourth-seeded Skyhawks then knocked off the second-seeded Redhawks 4-1 as UTM posted its third win of the day and fifth consecutive tournament victory.

Southeast pitcher Whitney Dupuis delivers a pitch during the second inning of the second game Saturday in Jacksonville, Ala. (WHITNEY HOWSER ~ For Southeast Missouri State Sports Information)

So the Skyhawks (38-22), who rebounded from a first-round loss, now head to the NCAA tournament for the first time after capturing their first OVC tournament title.

Southeast, which entered Saturday's action with the program's second-longest winning streak of 17 straight, finished the season 29-21 for its most victories since 2000.

"It's disappointing," Southeast coach Lana Richmond said. "We had it there for the taking. We were two outs from securing the win, but we just couldn't close it out.

"But I couldn't be more proud of the kids for what they've done this season. We had a great run."

The Redhawks appeared to be in good shape entering the final day of the six-team, double-elimination event.

Southeast received an opening-round bye, then won its first two games to cruise into the championship round as the lone remaining undefeated squad.

UTM had to defeat Tennessee Tech 4-2 earlier Saturday to earn the right to face Southeast, then the Skyhawks needed to beat the Redhawks twice.

The Redhawks overcame an early 1-0 deficit to go ahead 2-1 on a leadoff home run by junior Jennifer Vasquez in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Freshman pitching sensation Giana Zimmerman retired the first batter in the top of the seventh, but Megan Van Arsdale followed with a homer to tie the contest.

The squads headed to extra innings deadlocked 2-2.

UTM's Laura Roberts drew a leadoff walk in the top of the eighth and was sacrificed to second. She was still there with two outs when Megan Latimer's fly ball to center field was dropped by junior Elise Sperakos for an error, allowing Roberts to score.

Southeast was retired in order in the bottom of the eighth to force one final game for the title.

UTM's Savannah Roberts hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning off sophomore starter Whitney Dupuis, and the Skyhawks never lost the lead.

"I knew the first game was the one for us to take," Richmond said. "The second game, Martin was on a roll.

"I have to hand them a lot of credit. They had a great day, to play three straight games and to win five straight games in the tournament ... hats off to them."

By suffering the tough-luck loss in Saturday's first game, Zimmerman (19-9) had her personal 12-game winning streak snapped.

Zimmerman, hurling her 23rd complete game in 27 starts, allowed two earned runs and seven hits. She struck out three and walked five.

"She wasn't as sharp as she has been, but she was sharp enough to win," Richmond said.

Dupuis (7-8) took the loss in the finale, allowing three runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings. Zimmerman gave up one run and one hit over the final 1 2/3 frames.

Southeast had six hits in each game, led by Vasquez and sophomore Nicole Troncoso with three apiece on the day.

"Our bats kind of cooled down today," said Richmond, whose squad had 12 hits during Friday's 7-1 win over Tennessee Tech.

UTM had 15 hits in the two contests against Southeast, including five home runs. Roberts had two homers in the finale.

"The fences are short, so normal fly balls go out here," Richmond said of Jacksonville State's field. "But we played on the same field they did."

Kara Harper was the pitching star Saturday for the Skyhawks as she was the winner in all three games. The tournament MVP compiled four of UTM's five tournament victories.

Harper (20-8) fired off three perfect innings to close out the first triumph over Southeast, then notched her second complete game of the day.

"She's not overpowering, but she did a really good job for them," Richmond said.

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