By McNeese Assistant SID Pam LaFosse
HAMMOND— A three-run fifth inning opened up a tight game as the top-seeded McNeese Cowgirl softball team notched its school record 39th win of season after a 5-0 shutout win over Houston Baptist in the squad's opening game of the 2014 Southland Conference Tournament here Thursday afternoon.
McNeese, now 39-15 on the season, will advance to play the winner of the Northwestern State-Central Arkansas game at 4 p.m. on Friday. A live video stream will be available for free on the Southland Digital Network by going to Southland.org.
"Houston Baptist was a scrappy bunch today and we knew they were going to be like this. We have tried to put pressure on the other teams by stealing bases, putting the ball in play and trying to go back door. Defensively and offensively we just try to put pressure on them. I think it was huge that we capitalized on their error," said head coach Mike Smith.
Sophomore pitcher Jamie Allred, the league hurler of the year, threw her school record-tying ninth shutout of the season in guiding the Cowgirls to their first postseason win since 2012 and improved her season record to 26-7 to extend her school record in victories. It was the 17th team shutout of the season, also tying the school record.
After a scoreless first inning, Katie Roux and Kim Kennedy hit back-to-back singles with one out to get things started for the Cowgirls in the second. Roux singled up the middle and Kennedy singled to left center. Southland Conference Hitter of the Year Alanna DiVittorio followed with her 24th RBI of the season after her single scored Roux to give the Cowgirls a 1-0 lead.
Three innings later, the Cowgirls scored three runs with two outs in the fifth to open up a 4-0 lead. Marisa Taunton reached base on one of two HBU errors of the game to get things started then advanced to second on a stolen base. Lauren Langner followed with a walk and a single by Emily Vincent scored Taunton for a 2-0 Cowgirl lead. Langner, who moved up to third on Vincent's single, scored on a HBU throw down to second in an attempt to throw out Vincent. Stacey Conley, who entered as a pinch-hitter for Taylor Goree, singled to left field to score pinch-runner Tori Rich to give the Cowgirls a 4-0 lead.
Taunton, who led the team with two hits in the game, popped her second hit in the bottom of the sixth that scored DiVittorio and gave the Cowgirls an insurance run and a 5-0 lead.
McNeese outhit the Huskies 8-5 as seven Cowgirls in the lineup had at least one hit.
Defensively, Allred did not allow a runner past second base and only two to reach the bag.