Cali Burke's lone hit in the top of the seventh inning of game two of the Southland Conference tournament championship two-game series catapulted the Northwestern State softball team to a 5-4 tournament championship title over Sam Houston State after the Bearkats entered the championship game facing an un-beaten Lady Demon squad, only to put up a 5-0 performance and force a second game in the double-elimination weekend Saturday afternoon at the Lady Demon softball complex.
After claiming the program's fourth SLC tournament victory, as well as fourth NCAA tournament appearance, the Lady Demons (40-13) will await the location and seeding of the 2013 NCAA post-season tournament, which will be aired on ESPNU at nine o'clock CST Sunday evening.
The title marks the first SLC tournament championship since the 2002 season.
"The team is absolutely ecstatic," said fifth year head coach Donald Pickett. "We have to thank the fans and the parents for all of their support for the season, which will help as we go to the NCAA tournament, without any pressure, and hopefully take advantage of some teams that have a large amount of pressure to perform on them."
Down by one run in the seventh of the title game, Natalie Landry led off the inning with a single to first base and was pushed to second on a sacrifice bunt from Cheyenne DelaGarza. Jordan Palmer singled up the middle to occupy first and push Landry to third, drawing up Shenequia Abby and forcing a Sam Houston State pitching change.
Abby laid down a bunt for a suicide squeeze with the intention of scoring Landry, but the Bearkats threw Landry out at home.
An intentional walk for Tara McKenney loaded up the bases and drew Cali Burke to the plate. Burke hit a hard one to short and advanced to second on the throw to home as Abby scored the tying run, followed by Palmer with the eventual game winner, giving Burke two RBI.
"Walking up to the plate after they walked Tara, I just kept telling myself that I had to prove to myself and my teammates that I could do this," said Burke. "Pitchers have put me in that situation before, so it actually motivated me to make a big move
The Bearkats put SLC tournament Most Valuable Player Kylie Roos (17-4) in the exact position she wanted to be in, which is a tense one, when they put runners on the corners without any outs in the bottom of the seventh.
The Celina, Texas, product sat down All-Tournament team selections Alyssa Coggins and Kim Damian as Coggins struck out swinging and Damian was held to a ground-out to first. Designated Player Hillary Adams followed Damian with a routine play for Burke and Rodriguez as she grounded out to second.
After Sam Houston notched a run in the bottom of the first, Brittany Virgoe ignited the Lady Demons and put them on the board with her seventh home run of the season as she sent one over the left field fence in the top of the second, tying the game at one.
NSU tacked on two more runs in the fourth when Landry sent a two-run homer to center field, putting the Lady Demons up 3-1.
The Bearkats combatted the two-run deficit in the sixth when Damian led off with her own two-run homer to center field. SHSU tacked on what they believed to be an insurance run when Shelby Tucker rocked a RBI single to left center and allow pinch-runner Amy Pelton to score.
Landry led the Lady Demons with a two-for-three performance and two RBI in the title game, followed by Palmer rocking two-of-three hits. Burke's one-for-four display and two RBI made her mark, along with Virgoe going one-for-three and picking up a RBI.
Sam Houston State put up single runs in the second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings of game one to give the Lady Demons their only loss of the tournament.
Haley Baros and Meme Quinn held NSU to just five hits while striking out three en-route to the 5-0 victory for the Bearkats.
Roos suffered the loss after she was relieved by fellow senior Brooke Boening in the seventh. Roos struck out four and allowed 12 hits while Boening kept the Bearkats hitless, allowing one run.
The Lady Demons will play in the first round of the NCAA tournament beginning on Thursday, May 16th at a site to be determined.