NSU claims back-to-back conference championships - WFSB 3 Connecticut

NSU claims back-to-back conference championships

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HAMMOND– A 2-for-2 performance and three RBI from 2014 Southland Conference All-Tournament Team member, Cali Burke, allowed the No. 2 Northwestern State softball team to blank top-seeded McNeese State 11-0 (five innings) Sunday morning in the SLC Tournament title game, and capture back-to-back league tournament championships and its second consecutive berth to the NCAA Tournament.

The Lady Demons improved to 30-20 overall on the season, the program's 13th 30-plus-win season, and third of sixth-year head coach Donald Pickett's reign at NSU. Northwestern State claimed the 2013 tournament championship and NCAA Tournament berth after defeating Sam Houston State 5-4 in Natchitoches.

McNeese State dropped to 40-17 with the loss.

The tournament championship and NCAA Regional Tournament berth marks the fifth overall for Northwestern State, and second during Pickett's time. The Lady Demons will learn their tournament berth and seeding during Sunday night's NCAA Selection Show, which begins at nine o'clock CST on ESPNU. The team and coaching staff will host a selection show party at Trail Boss in Natchitoches beginning at 8:30, with appetizers for fans and supporters provided by the Demons Unlimited Fund.

The 11-0 shut out is the largest scoring margin ever recorded in the Southland Conference Tournament Championship, the closest coming in 2001 when Texas State defeated the Lady Demons 7-0.

"We've had to battle all year long, and we knew how good we were; down the stretch, our seniors stepped up and became the aggressor and didn't look back," said Pickett. "There was no secret to us winning today. We just came out and played, and performed with confidence and drive.

"Tara and Cali had two big hits in the first inning, which ultimately broke the ice for us, and allowed us to keep pushing against a tough McNeese team."

The Lady Demons placed four players on the All-Tournament Team, including tournament Most Valuable Player, Kaylee Guidry, as well as fellow classmates Shenequia Abby, Tara McKenney and Burke.

McKenney did not waste any time as she led off the game with a triple, her second of the season, to left center. Burke gave the Lady Demons their first run as she followed McKenney with a sacrifice fly to right, and gave the senior shortstop a chance to cross the plate. Brittany Virgoe followed with a walk, and moved to second when Kellye Kincannon drew a walk. Brianna Rodriguez picked up her only hit and RBI of the day when she singled to right, and sent Virgoe home for a 2-0 lead.

NSU picked up a single run in the second with two outs already on the board. A pair of ground-outs from Cheyenne DelaGarza and Abby brought McKenney back to the plate. The Red Oak, Texas, native reached on a single to third, stole second, and scored off a single up the middle from Virgoe.

In the third, the Lady Demons put the Cowgirls at an arm's length with five runs off five hits and a McNeese error. Kincannon singled, and moved to second when Southland Pitcher of the Year Jamie Allred walked Rodriguez. Head McNeese State coach, Mike Smith, followed the walk with a pitching change, bringing in freshman Rachel Smith for Allred.

Britney Jones moved Kincannon and Rodriguez into scoring position when she grounded out to third. Abby secured her only RBI of the day when she sent a grounder to shortstop Katie Roux. Abby beat out Roux's throw, and gave Kincannon time to head home. McKenney and Burke followed with RBI-singles right and center field, respectively.

Burke's single cleared the bases, and she advanced all the way to third off an error from center fielder, Alanna DiVittorio. Burke scored the fifth and final run of the inning off a RBI-single from Virgoe.

The fourth inning went scoreless, and NSU tacked on three more insurance runs in the fifth. Abby got things started with a single down the left field line, and moved to second off a single through the left side from McKenney. Burke notched a RBI-single to right, scoring Abby, and advanced to second when Virgoe walked. Kayla Boening entered to pinch run for Burke, and reached home, along with McKenney, on a two-RBI-single up the middle from Cassandra Barefield.

The Cowgirls left three runners on base throughout the game, and did not get a hit until the fourth inning.

McKenney posted a perfect 4-for-4 performance at the plate and picked up one RBI. Burke and Virgoe were also flawless at the plate as both went 2-for-2. Burke collected three RBI, and Viroge claimed two.

"I don't feel like I'm alone at the plate because my teammates pick me up every time, especially after leading off with that triple in the first," said McKenney. "I don't have any pressure because I know the girl behind me is going to pick me up if I fail."

Guidry (12-3) threw a complete game and gave up just two hits and one walk. She also struck out two en route to her third win of the tournament and third victory in a row.

"This means a lot, and with putting the hard work in all year long, it feels so good to finally get here and win," said Guidry. "It feels great to get MVP, but without my team I'd be nothing, I'm just there to keep runners off the bases and the runs off the board."