WMBD/WYZZ-TV STAFF - CARBONDALE, Ill. - The Illinois State softball team won its first State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Softball Championship title since 2001 with a 13-3 rout of Southern Illinois Saturday afternoon at Charlotte West Stadium in Carbondale, Ill. The Redbirds set a title-game record with their 13 runs and recorded a season-high 16 hits.
Sophomore Laura Canopy was the catalyst for ISU (35-21) offensively, as she finished the day 3-for-4 with two three-run homers and an RBI double to tie the Valley record for RBIs in a conference tournament title game with seven. Junior Jhavon Hamilton drove in four runs with a three-run homer and a sacrifice fly, while fellow junior Lauren Kellar went 3-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored.
Senior pitcher Jordan Birch won her 23rd game of the year, allowing three runs on 10 hits with five strikeouts around three walks. The Monroe, Wash., native was named the State Farm MVC Softball Championship's Most Valuable Player, after going 2-0 in the circle and allowing just four runs in 14.0 innings.
Illinois State jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Kellar started the rally with a one-out single and senior Liz Andrews was hit by a pitch, before junior Elizabeth Kay singled up the middle for the game's first run and chased SIU starter Brittney Lang after just 0.1 inning. On the very next pitch, Canopy hit the first of her three-run homers off Saluki reliever Katie Bertelsen.
Southern Illinois got a run back in the top of the second to cut the lead to 4-1, when Meredith Wilson doubled to right center and drove in Hayley Gorman, who singled earlier in the frame.
The Redbirds responded by putting up five more runs in the bottom of the second to extend the advantage to 9-1. Sophomore Kolby Hoffman tripled to right to open the inning and freshman Lindsey Greene followed with a single to put runners on the corners with no outs. Hamilton flied out to deep center, allowing Hoffman to tag and score from third and Kellar singled to center to plate Greene. Following Kellar's single, Alyssa Wunderlich took over for Bertelsen inside the circle and walked Andrews, before Canopy cleared the fences for the second time, driving in three more runs.
ISU continued its offensively onslaught in the bottom of the third, scoring four more runs on five more hits. Hoffman and Greene started the inning with a single and a walk, before Hamilton cleared the bases with a three-run blast to deep right. Canopy drove in her seventh run of the game later in the inning, with an RBI double to right to push Illinois State's lead to 13-1.
Neither team would score again until the top of the seventh, when the Salukis plated a pair of runs on back-to-back RBI singles by Gorman and Jayna Spivey to make the final tally, 13-3.
The NCAA Tournament berth is the third-straight for ISU, marking the first time in program history that the Redbirds have made three-consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.