THIS WEEKEND: The Stephen F. Austin Ladyjack softball team will try to win its second Southland Conference Tournament in three years when the Ladyjacks head to San Marcos, Texas, to take part in the 2010 event. SFA brings a 28-18 overall record to the contest. The Ladyjacks went 20-10 in Southland play to tie Texas State for the regular-season championship, the first in SFA history. The tournament begins Thursday and will run through Saturday with the championship game scheduled to be broadcast on the Southland Television Network.
LAST WEEK: The Ladyjacks slugged it out in a three-game series against Texas State to decide the league champion and came out on top, winning the first two games with walk-off home runs in extra innings for a 2-1 series victory. SFA trailed, 1-0, in the bottom of the seventh of Game 1, before Ashley Struchtemeyer tied it with a home run. Two innings later, Kendal Harper won the game with a two-run homer on a 3-2 count with two out. In the second game, Struchtemeyer scored the tying run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly, then Briana Bishop led off the bottom of the eighth inning for a 4-3 victory that clinched at least a share of the league title. In Sunday's finale, SFA gave up five unearned runs, allowing the Bobcats to take an 8-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh. The Ladyjacks put together a five-run rally, highlighted by a three-run homer from Harper, but SFA fell just short of tying the score and lost, 8-7. SFA has won four of its last six contests down the stretch.
THE TOURNAMENT: SFA goes into the Southland Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, earning a first-round bye in the event. The Ladyjacks await the winner of Thursday's first-round game between No. 4 McNeese State and No. 5 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. SFA swept the season series with both teams. In the other half of the bracket, No. 2 Texas State will take on the winner of a game between No. 3 UT Arlington and No. 6 Nicholls. The winners of Thursday's two late games will play Friday to determine which team advances to the championship game on Saturday.
LAST TOURNEY TRIP: SFA went into the 2009 tournament in Lake Charles as the No. 4 seed and opened the event with a 7-0 pasting of UT Arlington. But the Ladyjacks dropped their second game on opening day, falling to No. 1 Texas State, 3-1. SFA went on to be eliminated the following day, dropping a 2-1 decision against No. 6 Sam Houston State. The Bearkats got a two-run homer in the sixth inning to take the win.
UP NEXT: The winner of this weekend's tournament will earn the Southland's automatic berth into the NCAA Championships. The NCAA Selection Show special will air Sunday night at 9 p.m. Central on ESPNU.
NEWS AND NOTES
MAKING HISTORY: With last week's series victory against Texas State, the Ladyjacks accomplished something no team before them had -- a Southland Conference championship. In 22 previous seasons as a Southland member, the best SFA had done were third-place finishes in 1988, 1989 and 1991. SFA's 20-10 league record marks the most conference wins ever recorded by a Ladyjack team.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Six of the 16 players on SFA's 2010 roster were in uniform last time the Ladyjacks won the Southland Conference Tournament in 2008. What's more, that tournament was also played in San Marcos and hosted by Texas State.
THREE OF A KIND: SFA's 2008 Southland Tournament appearance broke an 18-year drought since the Ladyjacks' last tourney trip in 1990. The Ladyjacks have qualified for the league tournament each of the last three seasons since Gay McNutt took over the program prior to the 2008 season. That matches the program's longest string of tournament appearances, which started in 1988 -- SFA's first season in the league -- and went through 1990. There was no Southland Tournament from 1991 through 1995.
FAMILIAR TERRITORY: SFA is making only its sixth appearance in the Southland Conference Tournament. But the 2010 event will mark the third time the Ladyjacks have competed in a tournament in San Marcos, and the last two trips proved rewarding. SFA won the event in San Marcos in 1990 -- before the tournament title earned an automatic NCAA berth -- then captured the tournament crown again in 2008. Both times, SFA fought through a tough road, playing as the No. 4 seed. This year marks the Ladyjacks' first-ever tournament appearance as the top seed.
SLUGGIN' IN SAN MARCOS: SFA batted just .233 as a team in three tournament games in San Marcos in 2008, but the Ladyjacks got some big extra-base hits in timely fashion. SFA got a home run in each game and outscored the opposition, 13-3, for the tournament. Briana Bishop had a two-run homer in the Ladyjacks' 8-0 win over McNeese State in the opener. Then Jessica Tullos blasted a three-run shot in the sixth inning against Texas State that turned a 2-0 Bobcat lead into a 3-2 SFA win. In the championship game against Nicholls, Ashley Struchtemeyer untied a 1-1 game with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the seventh inning.
PITCHING NEAR PERFECTION: SFA ace Monika Covington, then a freshman, was just as crucial as the timely hitting in the Ladyjacks' 2008 tournament championship. Covington pitched all three games, finishing with a 0.35 ERA for the week. She posted one shutout and was charged with just one earned run. Covington issued five walks and recorded 26 strikeouts in 20 innings pitched. She earned the tournament MVP award for her effort.
ALL-SOUTHLAND: For the second straight season, SFA led the Southland Conference with six players selected to the all-league teams. Kendal Harper, Briana Bishop, Kayla Gutowski and Monika Covington were all named to the first team -- giving SFA more first-team selections than any other squad -- while Ashley Struchtemeyer earned second-team honors and Jessica Arana was named to the third team. All four first-teamers, along with Struchtemeyer, were repeat selections. Covington is the first player in SFA history to earn First-Team All-Southland honors in three consecutive seasons, and Arana is the first Ladyjack shortstop to earn All-Southland recognition.
SUPERLATIVES: In addition to the six all-conference nods SFA earned, Kendal Harper and Kayla Gutowski each took home superlative honors in league voting. Harper was named the Southland Player of the Year, marking the first such honor for a Ladyjack, while Gutowski became just the third player in Southland history to take Hitter of the Year honors in back-to-back seasons.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Three years after inheriting an SFA program that had posted one winning season in the previous 16 campaigns, Gay McNutt guided the Ladyjacks to their first-ever Southland Conference championship. She was rewarded by being voted the league's Coach of the Year. This marks the first such honor for a Ladyjack coach, but it is the fifth conference coach of the year award for McNutt. She won three Southland honors with Northwestern State, then took the 2004 Conference-USA Coach of the Year tag when she was with Southern Miss.
WALK-OFF WINNERS: Briana Bishop's game-winning home run in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 2 against Texas State wasn't her first of the season. Bishop also hit a three-run bomb in the bottom of the seventh against North Texas during the home-opening doubleheader against the Mean Green. Seven of her 10 home runs this season have either tied the score or given SFA a lead.
CLUTCH: SFA's two walk-off home runs grabbed the headlines in the series win against Texas State, but neither homer would have happened without clutch hitting from Ashley Struchtemeyer. Struchtemeyer hit the game-tying homer in the seventh inning of Game 1 to send it to extra innings. She had a hand in all three of SFA's runs during regulation in the second game, driving in two runs with a double in the third, then scoring the game-tying run in the sixth after singling to lead off the inning.
POWER SURGE: After playing the first 24 games of the season without hitting a home run, Kendal Harper has blasted six in the final 22 games of the year; all against conference opponents and all but one coming in home games. She hit her first in the series finale at McNeese State on March 28 and followed with a long ball in the series opener against A&M-Corpus Christi. Harper homered twice against Southeastern Louisiana and had two home runs against Texas State in the regular-season finale. The improved power numbers were part of an overall offensive improvement from Harper. She was batting .267 through the first 24 games of the year but hit .387 the rest of the way to finish second on the team with a .327 average.
A LITTLE EXTRA: Kayla Gutowski went 4-for-10 in SFA's series win against Nicholls, making her one of four SFA players to bat .400 in the series. Bethany Brown was almost as efficient, going 3-for-10. Both players had extra-base hits and scored a run every time they hit safely in the three-game set. Gutowski had two doubles and two home runs with three RBI and four runs scored. Brown had two doubles and a homer, driving in three and scoring three times.
SWEPT AWAY: In three seasons under head coach Gay McNutt, the Ladyjacks have been swept in a Southland Conference series just three times. But two of those sweeps have come this season. SFA dropped all three games at UT Arlington, then got swept out of Conway, Ark., with three losses at Central Arkansas.
BROOM GOES BOTH WAYS: In the Ladyjacks' four Southland series sweeps, SFA has batted .368 as a team and outscored its opponents by a combined total of 90-23. The Ladyjacks have banged out 22 doubles, 19 home runs and two triples for a team slugging percentage of .614 in the 12 wins. In their two losing efforts against UT Arlington and Central Arkansas, the Ladyjacks have batted just .210 and been outscored, 27-5, with only three home runs and a .287 slugging percentage.
WORST TO FIRST: SFA opened the season with a five-game losing streak that stands as the worst start in the Southland Conference this year. Since that skid, though, the Ladyjacks are 28-13 (.683) and have put together two separate win streaks of five or more games. SFA tied Texas State for a share of the Southland Conference title by putting up a program-best 20-10 record in league play.
SLAMMIN' SOUTHEASTERN: Of SFA's four Southland series sweeps, the three-game run against Southeastern Louisiana is the most dominant. The Ladyjacks batted .439 as a team and outscored the Lions, 21-1, winning two games by run-rule. SFA had five doubles and four home runs for a .697 slugging percentage that ranks just behind the .698 the Ladyjacks slugged against McNeese State. The SFA pitchers held Southeastern to a .207 average and finished the weekend with a 0.82 ERA.
SHUT DOWN: SFA's season-best seven-game win streak came to an end with a 7-0 loss at Texas A&M. That defeat marked the Ladyjacks' first shutout since a 3-0 loss to Notre Dame on Feb. 21. SFA followed that up with three straight scoreless losses at UT Arlington, marking the longest run of consecutive shutouts since the Ladyjacks dropped five straight games without scoring during the 2002 season.
STREAKS: SFA's season-best seven-game win streak overlapped with another impressive Ladyjack streak. SFA hit at least one home run in each of those seven wins, beginning the streak with five straight multi-homer contests. The Ladyjacks blasted 16 home runs over the seven-game streak, bettering the 12 total long balls they hit in the first 21 games of the season.
SCORE! : When SFA scores two runs or fewer, the Ladyjacks are 2-14. But SFA has a 26-4 record when scoring at least three runs and is an impressive 17-1 when scoring five runs or more.
EARLY TO RISE: The Ladyjacks are 20-4 this season in games when they score first.
HOLDING ON TIGHT: SFA has been tough to beat when the Ladyjacks can grab a lead. They are 17-2 this season when leading after the fourth inning and 16-0 when leading after the sixth.
WORKING FROM TWO TO FIVE: The second and fifth innings have been the most productive for SFA this season. The Ladyjacks have scored 39 runs in the fifth and 37 runs in the second inning. They've outscored the opposition by a combined total of 76-44 in those two innings.
SOUTHLAND SURGE: In 16 non-conference games, SFA scored a total of just 46 runs. That's an average of 2.9 runs per game. In conference action, the Ladyjacks scored a league-best 152 runs in 30 contests for an average of 5.1 runs per game. SFA also held league opponents to 89 runs, tying for the second-fewest allowed in the conference. In all, the Ladyjacks outscored their Southland opposition by an average of just over two runs per game.
RECORD WATCH: Seniors Kendal Harper and Briana Bishop have padded their bios with a few new career records this season. Harper is now SFA's career leader in triples with 13 and hits with 226. She also holds single-season records for hits (75) and stolen bases (28), both recorded in 2008. Bishop took over the career lead in RBI (130) and walks (85) this season, adding to the home run record she already owned. With 10 long balls this season Bishop has increased her career mark to 35. She needs just two more doubles to set a new career record in that category.
TWO DOWN, STEP UP: Brittany Caruthers leads the Ladyjacks with a .364 batting average when hitting with two outs and runners on base. She's even better with two out and runners in scoring position. Caruthers bats .400 in those spots. Her 10 two-out RBI lead the team.