CONWAY, Ark. – Senior Brittney Jones’ solo home run put No. 6 seed Northwestern State within striking distance in the fifth inning, but No. 3 seed Lamar held off the Lady Demons in a 4-2 win to open the Southland Conference Tournament on Wednesday.
NSU (22-32-1) enters the loser’s bracket and will play Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in an elimination game against McNeese, Sam Houston State or Central Arkansas.
Jones’ home run, which moves her into sole possession of third place on NSU’s career list, cut the Cardinals’ lead to 4-2.
But the Lady Demons couldn’t take advantage of sixth-inning singles by Sidney Salmans and Jordan Rains in NSU’s last real threat.
Lamar (28-26) pitcher Ciara Luna (13-15) earned the win by allowing two runs on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts.
NSU sophomore Mikayla Brown (15-14) lasted just 3 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on six hits with four free passes and a strikeout.
“Brown struggled with the command of some of her pitches, but (reliever Katelyn Boles) came in and gave us a chance,” said NSU coach Donald Pickett.
The Lady Demons started well when Sidney Salmans gave NSU a 1-0 lead in the second at-bat of the game on a Hailee Rhodes sacrifice fly. Salmans led off with a triple, her fourth of the season.
But Luna recorded 13 straight outs before Jones’ home run in the fifth inning.
“Salmans jump started us with a triple, and Jones hitting that home run put us into a situation to have a chance to come back in the last two innings,” Pickett said. “But we couldn’t take advantage of a couple of hits in the sixth inning.”
Lamar answered with a Sable Hankins sacrifice fly to score Brittany Rodriguez (2-for-4) to tie the game 1-1 in the first inning.
Brown issued two of her four free passes to load the bases in that opening frame, but a fly out ended the inning and stranded three of Lamar’s seven runners left on.
The Cardinals took a 2-1 edge in the third inning on a Kelly Meeuwsen ground out.
Lamar scratched two runs across in the fourth inning despite Brown recording the first two outs without incident.
Lamar’s Shelby Hughston walked before Ashley McDowell singled and Rodriguez doubled in two runs.
Boles entered the circle and logged 2 1/3 scoreless inning with one hit, one walk and two strikeouts. The sophomore has now thrown 6 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings after struggling in the month of April.
NSU has now lost four times this season to Lamar after the Cardinals won all three games to open SLC play in Beaumont in early March. Three of Lamar’s four wins have come by two runs or less.
Brown threw 77 pitches in the outing, meaning she will likely be available for Thursday’s 12:30 p.m. start time.