CONWAY, Ark. – Pitcher Mikayla Brown rebounded from a subpar outing Wednesday with a stellar performance Thursday as No. 6 seed Northwestern State topped No. 4 seed Sam Houston State 4-1 to stay alive in the Southland Conference Tournament.
NSU (23-32-1) will play host and No. 5 seed Central Arkansas at 5:30 p.m. in another elimination game. UCA came from behind to beat No. 3 seed Lamar 2-1 in the tournament’s first elimination game earlier Thursday.
Brown beat SHSU (24-27) for the second time this season with an unearned run allowed on four hits in the complete-game effort.
The sophomore retired SHSU’s first 14 batters and kept her shutout until SHSU left the bases loaded in the seventh inning.
An error and three hits helped SHSU place runners as Hannah Marino singled in a run to slice NSU’s edge to 4-1 in Brown’s only stressful inning.
But Brown struck out Emily Bounds with the bases loaded to end the game on her fourth strikeout of the day.
“I’m really proud of Brown setting the tone for us early, ending innings quickly in the early going,” said NSU coach Donald Pickett of Brown, who threw a three-hit shutout against the Bearkats in the season’s first weekend. “She created momentum, and once we got it, we continued to build off it.
“Sam Houston came back, put runners on and had a chance in the seventh inning. That’s what good teams do, but Brown got out of it and got that big strike out to end it.”
As stressful as a bases-loaded seventh-inning can be, freshman Hayley Barbazon made it less stressful with two sixth-inning insurance runs.
Already up 2-0, Barbazon (2-for-3) connected on a two-out single to score Brittney Jones (doubled) and pinch runner Elise Vincent.
Jones (2-for-3), who entered the SLC Tournament not having homered in two months, hit her second home run in as many days with a solo shot in the second inning for a 2-0 edge.
The senior from Bryan, Texas, has 40 career home runs and is third all-time in NSU history. Her sixth inning double (41st) moved her into fifth all-time at NSU and her 124th career RBI places her fifth on NSU’s chart.
“Everybody would love to hit home runs, but I’m trying to do this for my team and not trying to do this to be the person I was a year ago or in the past,” Jones said. “Getting a win today makes me emotional.
“I knew we could do it, and I know we are capable of winning this tournament, but I’m happy right now knowing that we get to play more softball.”
NSU scored a first-inning run for the second straight day on a Kellye Kincannon sacrifice fly. Sidney Salmans scored after reaching on a walk and advancing to third base on one of SHSU’s two errors.
Salmans (2-for-3, walk) has four hits in two tournament games.