TROY, Ala.— Going toe-to-toe with the defending Sun Belt Conference Tournament Champions, the top-seeded Western Kentucky University softball team (41-16) fell 2-0 against second-seeded and No. 19 South Alabama (45-7) in the SBC Tournament Championship Game Saturday afternoon.
It was the first time since 2005 that WKU played in the SBC Tournament title game and the first time under sixth-year head coach Tyra Perry. The Lady Toppers also continued the streak of the No. 1 seed playing in the championship contest, as the top seed has made it to every SBC title game since the league adopted softball in 2000.
Senior Mallorie Sulaski (12-8) held the Jaguars scoreless until the fifth inning, as she gave up seven hits and two walks while striking out one. South Alabama’s Hannah Campbell (21-7), named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, also allowed seven hits while sitting down three batters with strikeouts.
Sulaski along with juniors Emily Rousseau and Olivia Watkins, both First-Team All-Conference honorees, were named to the SBC All-Tournament Team, a first for each member of the trio. The three selections ties the most in program history, as three were chosen in the 2005 tournament.
The Lady Toppers were led at the plate by Watkins and seniors Ciara Garcia and Katrina Metoyer, as each went 2-for-3 against Campbell. Junior Amanda Thomas also added a hit in the contest. WKU placed a runner at third in two innings while leaving at least one runner on base in five innings.
USA broke a four-inning scoreless game after adding a run in the fifth inning. A single by Emily Messer opened the inning for the Jags, as a throwing error by senior Karavin Dew trying to pick off the runner on first went past the bag to put Messer in scoring position. A RBI double to left center by SBC Player of the Year Brittany Fowler brought in the run.
In the following frame for the Jags, one more run came to the plate after Alex Breeden delivered a RBI single to score pinch runner Stephanie Pilkington. Haley Fagan reached with a single up the middle to bring in Pilkington.
WKU 7, No. 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 4 (10 innings)
After falling to third-seeded and No. 21 Louisiana-Lafayette in a 3-2 game on Friday, the top-seeded Western Kentucky University softball team (41-15) bounced back Saturday morning to take a 10-inning 7-4 win over the Ragin’ Cajuns (43-13) to move to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship against No. 19 South Alabama.
With her second complete game against ULL in a span of less that 24 hours, Rousseau (24-6) pitched a career high in the game, giving up 16 hits while all four runs were earned. The SBC Pitcher of the Year struck out one and gave out four free passes. ULL left 16 runners on base
WKU posted 11 hits in the contest, as all came against Victoria Brown (9-2) in her 9.1 innings of work. Brown had six earned runs and three walks against her while fanning one batter.
WKU took the first lead, similar to Friday’s meeting with Ragin’ Cajuns. With sophomore Preslie Cruce and Watkins at first, an error by ULL second baseman Samantha Walsh on the toss to get Watkins on her way to second allowed Cruce to add the first run of the game. Watkins made her way home to set the 2-0 lead after a RBI groundout from junior Kelsie Mattox.
A run was cut from WKU’s lead in the bottom frame after Nerissa Myers opened with a double to left center. With one away, Myers scored after going to third on a Sarah Draheim single while posting the run on a throwing error from Mattox trying to get her out at the plate. The Cajuns tied it at 2 in the bottom second after a bases-loaded hit by pitch to Brianna Cherry brought in the run.
A home run in the first at-bat of the bottom third by Matte Haack gave ULL the 3-2 advantage; however, the Lady Toppers tied it in the following outing after opening singles and sacrifice bunt put pinch runner freshman Bethany Oglesby at third to score on a sophomore Shawna Sadler groundout.
A two-out walk to Garcia put WKU in position for Thomas to notch her first hit of the tournament in a RBI double and give the Lady Toppers a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning. The contest became knotted at 4 in the bottom sixth after a RBI single up the middle from Draheim scored Myers from third.
The Cajuns had a chance to take the game in the bottom seventh, as ULL had the bases loaded with two outs. Myers at the plate with a full count hit a bouncer to Garcia at first to get the unassisted out and force extra innings.
In a similar situation in the bottom eighth, the WKU defense turned its second double play and fourth against ULL in the tournament after Watkins made a diving grab to get the runner at first while Garcia got the last out by throwing to second.
Thomas’ 14th home run of the season sparked a three-run 10th inning for WKU to seal the victory. The solo shot over left field came in the inning’s first at-bat, as a single from Mattox followed. A sacrifice bunt from Metoyer set up the first insurance run after a RBI double from Sadler. Dew repeated the action with her own double for the game’s final run.
WKU now waits for its fate in the NCAA Regionals, as the selection show begins at 9 p.m. CT and airs on ESPNU. A replay of the championship game will air locally in Bowling Green on Sunday at 6 p.m. on WKYU.