Upsets & Close Calls At Puerto Vallarta College Challenge

College Softball Is Here

Mississippi State vs Southern Illinois

The Southern Illinois University softball team knocked off the No. 25 Mississippi State Bulldogs, 4-1, in its opener at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge Thursday. 

REPLAY | Mississippi State vs Southern Illinois

Brianna Jones was masterful in the circle to come away with the complete game win. Jones allowed just one run on five hits- all singles - and stymied a Bulldog offense that came in averaging nearly six runs and almost eight hits a game. The win marked the 70th of her illustrious career and moved her into sole possession of third on SIU's all-time wins list. 

Southern's defense behind Jones was exceptional, with several highlight-worthy plays. Maddy Vermejan and Ashley Wood combined to turn a 4-6-3 double play in the top of the second and Sidney Sikes followed with a diving catch in foul territory to record the first out of the third. Susie Baranski ran down a ball that looked destined for the gap in right-center and gloved it despite the sun being in her eyes in the sixth. Then in the seventh inning, Sikes gloved a ball that was smoked right at her for the second out of the frame and Jones struck out Mia Davidson, last year's NFCA Freshman of the Year, for a second time to seal the win.

"I thought Bri threw extremely well," head coach Kerri Blaylock said. "The strikeout of Mia Davidson to start the game set the tone. I also thought we came up with a couple of exceptional defensive plays. We turned a double play with Maddy and Woody, Sidney Sikes played great and Susie Baranski had a great catch on a ball that was lost in the sun."

At the plate, the Salukis were led by Katelyn Massa and Ashley Wood, who both tallied multiple hits in the win. Massa went 2-for-3 with a home run, two RBI and a run scored while Wood also went 2-for-3 with an RBI-double and a run scored.

The Salukis broke the game open in the sixth. In the top half of the inning, Jones plunked the second batter. After she got MSU's next hitter to fly out to right, Jones walked Sarai Niu to give the Bulldogs two runners on with two outs. Southern made the strategic decision to pitch around Davidson, who wasn't given any pitches to hit and took her free base. The gamble paid big dividends, as Jones got the next batter to line out to right field and keep the game tied at 1-all.

"Some people would think that it's kinda crazy to go to bases loaded but we intentionally were not going to let certain players beat us," Blaylock said. "There's a reason that Jen calls pitches for Brianna- Jen is so smart with her and she has more guts than I do in certain situations and Brianna responds to it. Just a really good job of calling pitches."

Katelyn Massa crushed her first home run of the season- a solo shot to the deepest part of the ballpark, to stake SIU to a 2-1 lead. It was the first home run given up this season by the Bulldog pitchers, who came into the contest with the 17th-best ERA nationally. 

The onslaught continued from there. Kyleigh Decker followed with a double down the right-field line and Decker and Wood switched spots after Southern's freshman shortstop sprayed a double down the left field line to score Decker. After SIU chased Mississippi State's starting pitcher Alyssa Loza following a walk to Sidney Sikes, Southern drew back-to-back walks to plate Wood and provide Jones with yet another insurance run.

The Salukis scored the game's first run in the bottom of the first inning. Maddy Vermejan led off the frame with a walk and advanced to third on consecutive productive at-bats that resulted in outs. Massa came through for Southern, as she roped a single to right to plate SIU's first run.

Southern got itself out of a jam in the top half of the second. After back-to-back singles gave Mississippi State two-on with no outs, Jones induced a 4-6-3 double play thanks to a great turn by Wood on a backhand flip from Vermejan. Jones got the next batter to pop out to Wood and SIU got out of the inning unscathed.

The Bulldogs tied the game at 1-all in the top of the third as they used two hits and a stolen base to tie the contest.

Southern had a chance to break the game open in the bottom half of the third after Maris Boelens led off the inning with a walk. Vermejan laid down a near perfect bunt that ate up Loza, and Susie Baranski laid down another bunt that caused fits for MSU's third basemen resulting in SIU having the bases loaded with no outs. Loza pitched out of the jam though, as she got three-straight pop-ups to keep the score tied. 

"When we had the bases loaded and got nothing- what a great show of resiliency by our kids to come back and keep battling," Blaylock said. "We just kept our heads down and kept battling."

Both squads hung zeros in the fourth and fifth before Southern plated three in the bottom half of the sixth to take the lead for good. 

The win marked SIU's first over a ranked opponent since 2013 and gives head coach Kerri Blaylock her 19th career win over a Top-25 foe. It was also SIU's first win over an SEC opponent since 2011.

"What we talked about is that we need to play consistently this way, that this is not a one-time thing," Blaylock said. "We need to keep playing consistent no matter if we are playing the 25th-ranked team in the country or whoever we are playing."

North Dakota State vs Northern Colorado

KK Leddy threw her eighth career shutout as North Dakota State defeated Northern Colorado 4-0, while No. 11-ranked Arkansas had to rally for a 7-6 win over the Bison on Thursday, Feb. 14, in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge at Nancy Almaraz Field.

REPLAY | NDSU vs Northern Colorado

Leddy (3-1), a senior right-hander from Middleburg, Fla., struck out seven, scattered three hits and walked one to complete her first shutout of the season. Leddy faced 25 batters and threw only 77 pitches against the Bears.

Montana DeCamp hit a home run to right field with two outs to put the Bison ahead 1-0 in top of the fourth inning. The Bison added three runs in the top of the seventh to extend the lead to 4-0. Cara Beatty hit a two-run home run to left field to score Sam Koehn two batters into the inning. Zoe Stavrou doubled to right to score Katie Shoultz to close out the scoring.

NDSU finished with 10 hits as Beatty went 2-for-4 with her second home run of the season and a double, and DeCamp had two hits.

Valerie Vidal (1-4) and Maggie Thurston pitched for Northern Colorado (1-5). Vidal struck out two and walked two.

North Dakota State vs Arkansas

No. 11-ranked Arkansas (6-0) rallied for a 7-6 win in the bottom of the seventh inning after the Bison tied the game at 6-all in the top of the frame. Kayla Green was hit by pitch, Ryan Jackson walked and Haydi Bugarin singled to load the bases. Sydney Parr was issued a bases-loaded walk to push Green across the plate.

REPLAY | NDSU vs Arkansas

North Dakota State trailed 3-2 entering the top of the sixth, but scored three times to take a 5-3 lead. With two outs, Maddie Hansen doubled home Stephanie Soriano. Sam Koehn delivered a two-run single up the middle to send Nicole Licea and Montana DeCamp home.

Maggie Hicks, who was 1-for-2 with four RBI, hit a three-run home run to left field to put the Razorbacks ahead 6-5.

NDSU struck with two outs again in the top of the seventh when Zoe Stavrou singled up the middle to score Shoultz.

Both teams finished with nine hits. Stavrou, Koehn and Shoultz each had a pair of hits for the Bison, while Danielle Gibson led Arkansas with three hits.

Paige Vargas (1-1) and Morgan Olson pitched for NDSU with Vargas picking up the loss. Vargas struck out three and walked three over the first 6.1 innings.

Autumn Storms (3-0) and Mary Haff pitched for the Razorbacks with Storms collecting the win. Storms struck out seven with no walks in the first six innings, while Haff had two strikeouts and a walk.

Mississippi State vs Washington

The #5 Washington Huskies used another big inning to wrap up a win, taking down #25 Mississippi State in their first of two games Thursday night. Washington score six runs in the second inning, their biggest inning since April 7 of last season, en route to a 7-2 win.

REPLAY | Mississippi State vs Washington

Gabbie Plain went the distance for her first win and first complete game of the season. She allowed five runs, all on three home runs by Mia Davidson, and struck out eight. Three times Plain retired the side in order, including twice in a row during a stretch that saw her retire seven straight batters.

Morganne Flores and Emma Helm would each drive in multiple runs. Helm's double in the second drove two runs in, the first two RBI of the season for Helm. Flores would homer in that inning for her second two-run homer in as many games, then drove in a third run on a laser line drive in the sixth.

Arkansas vs Washington

A tight pitching duel went Washington's way thanks to a late comeback, with the #5 Huskies beating the #12 Arkansas Razorbacks 3-2. Washington trailed for much of the game before back-to-back hits off the outfield fence brought the tying and winning runs home in the bottom of the seventh.

REPLAY | Arkansas vs Washington

Taran Alvelo worked hard for the complete game victory, striking out five to move to 2-1 on the season. She buckled down routinely in tough situations, stranding 13 runners on base, including back-to-back strikeouts in the first that left the bases loaded.

Sis Bates had two hits for the Huskies, including the game-tying double. That double scored Amirah Milloy, who went 2-for-3 in the game. Taryn Atlee also had two hits in the game, while Morganne Flores' deep single would end the game in a walk-off win.

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