Brianna Rodriguez's two-run RBI double in the top of the seventh sent the Northwestern State softball team to its first Southland Conference tournament championship game since 2004 with a 5-2 victory over Central Arkansas Friday evening at the Lady Demon softball complex.
The Lady Demons (39-12) have a chance of facing Central Arkansas (36-19), Sam Houston State or Southeastern Louisiana in the final game of the tournament, slated to begin at 2:05 Saturday afternoon on ESPN3. The game will also be broadcasted on the Demon Sports Network, flagshipped by 100.7 KZBL in Natchitoches.
"It feels good to win that semifinal game, but we have to just keep playing. We can't get wrapped up in where we are right now in the tournament," said fifth year head coach Donald Pickett. "We just have to keep playing well and do the things we have done all year long."
This is Pickett's first tournament championship appearance.
The Lady Demons opened Friday's play by completing a 1-0 victory over third-seeded Sam Houston State in a contest that was suspended for 15 hours due to thunderstorms Thursday night. Kylie Roos threw a complete-game five-hit shutout and Cassandra Barefield's RBI single in the first inning scored Rodriguez, who doubled, for the game's only run.
Tied at two in the top of the seventh of Friday evening's match-up, Shenequia Abby and Tara McKenney occupied first and second and were pushed to second and third off a sacrifice bunt from Cali Burke.
Rodriguez stepped up and sent a shot down the right field line to score Abby and McKenney and give the Lady Demons a 4-2 lead.
Brittany Virgoe doubled in her next at-bat to send Rodriguez home for the insurance run.
UCA gave a three-up, three-down performance in the bottom of the seventh to give the Lady Demons the tournament championship berth.
Rodriguez's double marks her 20th of the season, now just two-shy of Brandy Kenney's 1998 record of 22 doubles in a single season at NSU.
Roos (15-3) threw her second complete game of the weekend, striking out two and allowing nine hits.
The Lady Demons put up two runs in the second as Barefield, Virgoe and Cheyenne DelaGarza loaded up the bases and brought up Jordan Palmer. Palmer reached on an error by third baseman Lindsay Elliot, allowing pinch runner Baylee Gray to score.
Abby struck out swinging to bring up McKenney in the order, who nabbed a RBI single and allowed Virgoe to score.
UCA picked up its only runs of the contest in the fifth when Sam Forrest singled to right field with runners on second and third, allowing one to score. Sarah Bigej reached on a fielder's choice and picked up a RBI as well to tie the game.
Barefield led NSU with a three-for-four performance, followed by Virgoe going two-for-four and grabbing one RBI. Rodriguez went one-for-four while picking up two RBI on the evening.