Cougars ride long ball to win in OVC Tourney opener

The Southern Illinois University softball team hit three home runs on day one of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament and picked up an 8-3 victory over Morehead State on Wednesday at Cougar Field in Edwardsville.

SIUE, playing host to its first-ever OVC Softball Championship, won its 40th game of the season Wednesday. It was the ninth time the Cougars have won 40 games in a single season under OVC Coach of the Year Sandy Montgomery and the first time since 2009.

"There's a select few teams in the country with 40 wins, and I'm proud of our team," said Montgomery.

The Cougars advance to play Tennessee Tech, which defeated Eastern Kentucky 11-3 in six innings during its first tournament game. Game time is 3 p.m. Thursday.

SIUE hurler Haley Chambers improved to 23-6 with a three-hitter. She struck out 10 batters and has now recorded double-digit strikeouts in 15 games this season. She leads the OVC with 290 strikeouts this season.

The Cougars needed a come-from-behind victory in the tournament opener. Morehead State, 22-23, picked up a three-run homer by Tressa Watson in the first inning. After that hit, it was all Cougars.

"We were throwing pretty good pitches that turned into a couple walks and a home run," said Montgomery. "It is what it is, but the kids played poised and stayed confident. We know what we're made of and who we are."

"It wasn't my best first inning outing, but I knew I had to settle in and hit my spots," said Chambers. "That's what I focused on the rest of the game."

SIUE began to chip away at the lead in the bottom of the first on a sacrifice fly by Rachel Keller.

"I wasn't worried," said Chambers. "I know we can hit, and it was the first inning. We were all focused on getting pitches and seeing pitches, and we did our job."

The Cougars tied the game in the fourth inning. Alex McDavid led off with a solo home run, the 22nd of her collegiate career. Brittany Toney followed with a single. Kelsey Hansen, who pinch ran for Toney, scored the game-tying run on an infield error.

Chambers was a big part of the momentum in the top of the fourth. With a runner on first, Kayla McGuffey lined the ball back to Chambers and then made a quick throw to double off the runner to end the inning.

As the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the fourth, Chambers wasted little time in smacking a solo home run over the center field fence to give the Cougars the lead. It was her team-leading ninth of the season. SIUE would score three more runs in the inning to take a 7-3 lead, including a two-RBI single by McDavid.

Jordan LaFave close out SIUE's scoring as she hit SIUE's third solo home run of the game in the sixth inning. It was LaFave's sixth homer of the season.

"A win is a huge," said Montgomery. "The loser's bracket is tough to get out of, so I'm glad we came out with a win tonight."