(WHITNEY HOWSER ~ For Southeast Missouri State Sports Information)
Despite Saturday's disheartening turn of events for the Southeast Missouri State softball team, longtime coach Lana Richmond is encouraged by the Redhawks' rebound season.
The Redhawks, two outs away from winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament and earning an automatic NCAA tournament berth, fell short in Jacksonville, Ala.
But the Redhawks, who finished 29-21, posted their most victories since the 2000 team won 31 games and nabbed their highest OVC regular-season finish since the 2001 squad also placed second.
All that came after the Redhawks failed to qualify for the six-team OVC tournament in 2007 and 2008. Southeast never had failed to make the conference tournament before that.
"It was a great run and I feel like we've got the program back on track," said Richmond, who with nearly 800 victories in 27 seasons at Southeast is the winningest softball coach in OVC history.
What is especially encouraging for Richmond is that Southeast, with just one senior on its roster, is eligible to return all of its top players next season.
That includes three players who made the all-tournament team Saturday.
"I feel confident in the kids we return," said Richmond, who led Southeast to five consecutive OVC regular-season titles and four straight OVC tournament crowns in the late 1990s. "We still have some recruiting to do, but I'm definitely encouraged about next season."
Southeast players on the all-tournament team were freshman pitcher Giana Zimmerman, junior left fielder Jennifer Vasquez and sophomore second baseman Carmen Fowler.
Zimmerman went 2-1 in the tournament and fired off three complete games. She allowed just 14 hits and four earned runs in 23 2/3 innings.
Vasquez batted .357 (5-for-14) and hit both Southeast homers. She drove in four runs.
Fowler batted .333 (4-for-12) with three RBIs.
Zimmerman and Vasquez also were voted to the all-OVC second team last week, along with junior catcher Alex Ramirez and sophomore shortstop Nicole Troncoso.
Ramirez and Troncoso also had solid tournaments, both hitting .385 (5-for-13). Troncoso had three doubles.
Zimmerman had a dazzling rookie season, going 19-9 with a 2.42 ERA and 23 complete games in 27 starts. She allowed just 148 hits in 185 innings and struck out 184.
Zimmerman struck out the second-most batters in Southeast single-season history and is tied for fifth on the wins list.
"She had a tremendous freshman year," Richmond said. "I just expect her to get better and better."
Troncoso led Southeast with a .341 average.
Ramirez batted .333 while leading the Redhawks with six homers, 27 RBIs and 29 walks, the latter figure tied for the most in single-season program history.
Fowler was third on the squad with a .301 average -- she had a team-high 11 doubles -- followed by Vasquez at .270.
Vasquez was especially hot down the stretch as she led Southeast with a .356 average in conference play, just ahead of the .355 mark by Ramirez.
"I'm excited about the future," Richmond said.