The Southeast softball team fell 9-5 to Jacksonville State in the championship game
The Southeast Missouri State softball team finally ran out of miracles.
Southeast's amazing Ohio Valley Conference tournament run ended Sunday morning with a 9-5 loss to Jacksonville State in the title game of the six-team, double-elimination event.
The fifth-seeded Redhawks had forced the winner-take-all final contest on freshman Shelby Kuryllo's three-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the seventh inning late Saturday night to beat the second-seeded Gamecocks 3-2.
This time defending tournament champion JSU (39-19) finished off Southeast (31-30) in Charleston, Ill., as the Gamecocks earned the OVC's automatic NCAA tournament berth.
"We had a great run. I'm real proud of the kids," said Southeast coach Lana Richmond, whose squad was down to its final out before rallying for a first-round win over SIU-Edwardsville and beat OVC regular-season champion Eastern Illinois twice. "They showed a lot of heart. You never could count them out until the end."
That was evident even in defeat Sunday. The Redhawks, down 9-3 entering the top of the seventh inning, used two hits and three walks to score twice. They brought the tying run to the plate with two outs before their bases-loaded threat ended.
"I think that last inning sums up the whole tournament," Richmond said. "They fought all the way."
Tiffany Harbin, the tournament MVP who no-hit Southeast on Friday and struck out 14 on Saturday before giving up Kuryllo's winning blast, didn't make it out of the first inning Sunday.
Southeast went ahead 1-0 in the top of the first. Junior Evan Sallis reached on an infield single, Kuryllo singled and Sallis scored on senior Carmen Fowler's sacrifice fly.
Harbin was relieved after walking junior Renee Kertz. Hillary Phillips escaped further damage and went the rest of the way.
"They got [Harbin] out of there quick," Richmond said.
JSU answered with four runs in the bottom of the first, getting two hits and taking advantage of four walks. Southeast sophomore starter Taylor Cowan also didn't make it out of the opening inning.
"She struggled in the strike zone," Richmond said.
Southeast got a run back in the second inning on an RBI single by Sallis, but JSU put the Redhawks in an 8-2 hole with a four-run third inning that featured four hits off freshman ace Alora Marble.
Kuryllo's fourth-inning RBI single made it 8-3. JSU got that run back in the fifth and held off Southeast's final rally.
Cowan, who had allowed the Gamecocks just two runs in 12 1/3 previous innings in the tournament, took the loss.
Junior Stefanie Barnes kept Southeast within striking distance by allowing one run and one hit over the final 3 2/3 innings.
Southeast outhit JSU 11-7. Kuryllo led the way with three hits. Sallis and junior Renee Kertz added two hits apiece.
The Redhawks nabbed three of the 12 spots on the all-tournament team, second behind JSU's four. Southeast selections were Sallis, Kuryllo and Marble.
Sallis led Southeast in the tournament with a .455 batting average (10 for 22) and five runs scored.
Kuryllo batted .421 (8 for 19) with the Redhawks' only two homers and a team-high six RBIs.
Marble went 3-1 with a 2.40 ERA as she finished the year 18-8.
Southeast ended its resurgent season with the program's most wins since the 2000 squad also posted 31 victories. The Redhawks bounced back from a last-place OVC finish in 2010.
"It was a great turnaround," said Richmond, whose squad also was second in the OVC tournament in 2009 and won the most recent of its four league tournament titles in 1999. "We went from last place to the championship game, fighting all the way to go to the NCAA tournament."
Richmond is excited about the future with only four seniors on this year's roster,
"We've got the bulk of our team coming back along with some key recruits," said Richmond, the OVC's all-time winningest coach who completed her 29th season at Southeast. "The future looks good."