Go figure the Bradley Braves to be spoilers.
When it's not Jim Les' greasy used car salesman look stomping on the sidelines as the Braves bested the Saluki men in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis this past March, the Bradley softball team shocked the Valley by beating the top two seeds in the conference tourney en route to a slot in one of the 16 NCAA Tournament regionals.
Bradley's first ever softball conference championship broke the curse of the host of the MVC Tourney not winning the damn thing. No word out of Peoria whether or not a goat, a black cat, a priest or the ghost of Hersey Hawkins were present to bless the occasion.
All I know is the Valley will not be represented by Creighton, whose program is noted as one of the best in the nation especially when Tara Oltman is in the circle. Or by my beloved alma mater, Southern Illinois, which finished with 33 wins and spent nine straight weeks in the USA Today Top 25 poll.
Instead, the Mid Major That Could will be represented by a 25-26 team that was nearly no-hit a month ago in Carbondale that happens to be riding the hot hand.
As for Saluki softball's future, well, I could only wish to be around for the ride for what's coming down the line.
Kerri Blaylock's squad returns its top three hitters and a strong core up the middle with senior-to-be second baseman Alicia Garza (.375 batting average), junior-to-be center fielder Chelsea Held (.964 on-base plus slugging) and sophomore-to-be shortstop Haley Gorman (.322 average, .369 OBP). However, SIU will need to find a replacement for the leadership and production of its outgoing seniors including left fielder Katie Schmidt, third baseman Katie Wagner and catcher Jayme Wamsley.
Southern's pitching staff loses my favorite interview, senior southpaw Katie McNamara, but will return sophomores Danielle Glosson (9 wins, 17 strikeouts in 114 innings) and Nikki Waters (15-2, 9-0 against MVC teams).
So wake me up when Blaylock's bunch takes the field at Charlotte West Stadium, also known as The Crown Jewel Of Saluki Athletic Facilities.
Softball left out of NCAA Tournament [SIUSalukis.com]