HAMMOND — For the second time in as many years, the Northwestern State softball team captured the Southland Conference tournament championship, defeating McNeese State 11-0 Sunday morning at North Oak Park.
The Demons (30-20) will compete at the Baylor regional in the NCAA tournament and face Baylor (42-13) at 7 p.m. Friday.
The No. 2-seeded Demons got rolling early against the top-seeded Cowgirls with a leadoff triple by shortstop Tara McKenney to start the game. McKenney finished the day 4-for-4 with an RBI, earning her all-tournament honors.
“Momentum is huge in this game, and (McKenney) stepped up like she had been doing all weekend and got us going,” Northwestern State coach Donald Pickett said. “I think that kind of broke the ice a little bit and allowed us to play loose, and I think that was the key to the game.”
McKenney scored on a sacrifice fly by second baseman Cali Burke, and Brianna Rodriguez had an RBI single for a 2-0 Demon lead in the first. Burke also earned all-tournament honors after registering eight RBIs during the event, including three on Sunday.
Northwestern State added another run in the second on a Brittany Virgoe RBI single and broke the game open with five runs on five hits in the third.
Shenequia Abby, McKenney, Burke and Virgoe had RBI singles in the inning to push the advantage to 8-0.
Northwestern State put the game away in the fifth inning, scoring three runs on five hits. Burke had an RBI single, and Cassandra Barefield added a two-run single to cap the scoring.
McNeese was unable to score in the bottom of the fifth, and the game was called.
The Demons collected 14 hits in the game, while McNeese got two.
Southland Conference Pitcher of the Year Jamie Allred (27-8) was responsible for three of those runs and five hits before being pulled in the third inning in favor of Rachel Smith.
“She just didn’t have it,” McNeese State coach Mike Smith said. “Jamie is a workhorse, and they were swinging the bat pretty good. We just felt like Rachel was a better matchup. … It is what it is. I guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks, to make that decision.”
Smith said his team was slowed down on Sunday in part because his played a semifinal game against Stephen F. Austin that finished just before midnight on Saturday. He said it isn’t an excuse for what happened in the final, but the Cowgirls were running on as little as four hours of sleep.
“We had to play the game just like they did,” Smith said. They did a great job, and we tip our hats to them. … Two years back-to-back, they’re doing something right in the postseason.”
Smith also gave credit to Northwestern State pitcher Kaylee Guidry (12-3) for keeping McNeese under three hits for the second time in the tournament. The Demons defeated the Cowgirls 3-2 on Saturday, with Guidry allowing only three hits.
Guidry’s performance on Sunday was good enough to earn tournament MVP honors after allowing two earned runs on nine hits while striking out 10 batters through three games pitched.
“It feels good to win MVP, but I have to hand it to my team.” Guidry said. “Without them, I’d be nothing. Them making the plays, making the big hits, manufacturing runs — it’s all about them. I’m just there trying to keep people off the bases and off the board.”