May 8, 2008
SAN MARCOS, Texas -
The Stephen F. Austin Ladyjack softball team looked like a group of postseason veterans Thursday in the program's first Southland Conference Tournament appearance since 1990. The Ladyjacks pounded out nine base hits and played errorless defense behind a sterling performance by freshman ace Monika Covington to take a run-rule-shortened 8-0 win over McNeese State in six innings at Texas State's Bobcat Field.
The win improves SFA to 34-23 on the year and extends one of the best seasons in the Ladyjacks' SLC era. No. 4 SFA advances to meet conference regular-season champion and No. 1 overall seed Texas State Friday in the semifinals.
McNeese State ends its season at 23-36. The Cowgirls, who came into the tournament as the No. 5 seed, had defeated No. 8 Southeastern Louisiana, 5-4, in the tournament's opening game Thursday morning.
After Covington retired the Cowgirls in order in the top of the first, SFA jumped out to a three-run lead on a pair of extra-base hits. Freshman Monica Hircsh pounded an infield single off the plate to lead off the inning. She moved to second on a bunt by sophomore Kendal Harper, then took third on a ground-out by junior Benet Higgs.
Hirsch scored when the next batter, senior Jessica Tullos, rapped a 2-2 pitch off the wall in right-center for a double. Sophomore Briana Bishop one-upped Tullos in the next at-bat with a towering home run over the left-field wall on the first pitch she saw.
The Cowgirls put runners at second and third with one out in the second inning, after a double by Molly Guidry. But Covington struck out the next batter on three straight pitches then escaped the jam by recording the third out on strikes.
McNeese threatened again in the fourth, when Covington hit the leadoff batter and walked the next hitter to put two on with no outs. The runners eventually advanced to second and third on a sharply-hit ground-out back to Covington, but she struck out the next batter to keep the Cowgirls off the board.
The Ladyjacks took advantage of a McNeese State error to pad their lead with four unearned runs in the fifth. Junior Kim Daley drew a lead-off walk, then pinch-runner Michele Huffman took second when Hirsch reached on an error by the Cowgirl shortstop. SFA loaded the bases when the next batter, Kendal Harper, pushed a bunt single past the pitcher's circle toward the shortstop.
It looked like McNeese would escape damage when Bethany Stefinsky sat the next two SFA batters down on strikes, but Bishop looped a lazy base knock into shallow right field, and Huffman and Hirsch both scored when the ball squirted loose. Bishop moved to second on the throw as Harper coasted in at third. Junior Moriah Davis then roped a single through the left side of the Cowgirl infield, plating both Harper and Davis to give SFA a 7-0 advantage.
The Ladyjacks ended the game with a single run in the sixth inning. Junior Kari Hugie led off with a base on balls. Pinch runner Crystal Garcia took second on a ground-out by Daley, then Hirsch bounced her second infield single of the game off home plate to put Garcia at third. Hirsch stole second to give SFA two runners in scoring position, but the game ended on the next at-bat when Harper lifted a sacrifice fly to shallow right. Garcia beat the play at the plate with a head-first slide.
Covington allowed just six base runners in the game - five hits and a walk - and struck out eight in recording her ninth shutout of the season. She improved to 18-12 with the complete-game victory.
Bishop finished 2-for-3 on the day with four RBI and two runs scored to lead the Ladyjacks at the plate.
Thursday's win helped the Ladyjacks rebound from a late-season swoon that saw them lose five of their last six games to end the regular season. In also broke an 18-year drought between SFA victories in the SLC Tournament. The Ladyjacks last made the tournament field in 1990, when they came in as the No. 4 seed and reeled off wins in three of their four games, including a 6-3 verdict over Northwestern State in the championship game.
SFA is now 8-5 in SLC Tournament play. The Ladyjacks' game against host team Texas State is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. start on Friday. SFA won two of three against the Bobcats in their regular-season meeting in Nacogdoches. Texas State compiled a 35-17 overall record and a 25-5 mark in SLC play. The Bobcats are in the SLC Tournament for the 10th straight season.
-- SFA --