TERRE HAUTE —
Southern Illinois-Edwardsville dominated softball at the NCAA Division II level for many years, and knew it would take a little while to get back on the national stage after moving up to Division I three years ago.
That wait didn’t prove to be very long, as the Cougars won the Ohio Valley Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with a convincing 12-1 victory in six innings over Murray State in the championship game of the 2014 OVC tournament at Jacksonville, Ala.
SIUE (30-21) will begin play in the 64-team NCAA Division I tournament at Alabama against the host Crimson Tide (45-11) in a 6 p.m. contest Friday that will be featured as a national game on ESPN3.com.
The Cougars may feel right at home against the competition, having played nine teams that advanced to the NCAA tournament. The list includes LSU, No. 16 seed Minnesota, No. 8 seed Arizona State, No. 7 seed Oklahoma, No. 12 seed Washington, Kansas, Central Florida, Stetson and Bradley.
“That's why we played that schedule,” said coach Sandy Montgomery, a native of Casey. “It will be a challenge but we are going to give it our all.”
SIUE went undefeated in the OVC tournament behind the arm of left-hander Haley Chambers, formerly of Riverton Parke, and a barrage of home runs. The Cougars hit seven homers in three games of the tournament at University Field after hitting just nine during the regular season.
Chambers led SIUE's contingent on the all-tournament team and was named the Most Valuable Player after going 3-0 in the Championships and improving her season record to 18-13.
There was plenty of time for tension to build for the OVC final game, as rain delayed the contest for two days.
When Saturday’s clear skies came, the Cougars were more than ready.
“We were itching to play all day,” said Chambers. “We wanted this win. We wanted to get back at Murray State because they swept us this season. We wanted to prove that we deserved to be out here and we deserved to get this win.”
Chambers hurled a three-hit gem, allowing a single tally in the third inning, and also joined in on the home-run parade.
“This means everything,” said Chambers. “This is everything we have worked for since day one. I don't have words to describe it right now. It's amazing. It's an amazing feeling.”
I I I
n Other honors earned – Several winter and spring sports athletes have earned recognition for their performances, with others still to come.
Sarah Burnham, Riverton Parke, softball, St. Mary-of-the-Woods –Named a first-team All-American by the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, ranking in the top-5 in the USCAA in triples (5), doubles (19), hits (53), and at bats (139). Burnham led the Pomeroy offense with a team-best .381 batting average. As a pitcher, Burnham collected 10 wins on the season and finished with 108 strikeouts. The Parke County native also was honored as the USCAA Player of the Week on April 8.
Megan Stone, North Central, softball, Indiana State – Second team all-Missouri Valley Conference. Stone, who earned 2nd team honors at first base, finished her junior season as the team leader in home runs with seven and RBI's with 28. Stone also earned MVC Player of the Week honors earlier in the season.
Was named MVC player of the week on March 31 after leading the Sycamores by going 8-12 for a .667 batting average with three doubles and a home run for a team leading seven RBI and 14 total bases. Stone also added three runs scored and a .692 on base percentage with a whopping 1.167 slugging percentage.
Marissa Stout, Terre Haute South, softball, Rose-Hulman – Second team all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Finished as the team’s leader at the plate, batting a squad-best .370 with 34 hits, 15 runs scored, seven doubles, four home runs, a triple and a team-best 26 RBI. Her slugging percentage (.598) and on-base percentage (.435) were also team bests, and she was walked 13 times, striking out only six times all year.
A.J. Reed, Terre Haute South, baseball, Kentucky – The NCAA leader in homers, slugging and OPS, and the Southeastern Conference leader in pitching wins, the versatile junior has been named one of 30 players on the updated midseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award.
Haley Seibert, Terre Haute South, basketball, Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne — Was named to the All-Summit League First Team this season after averaging 16.7 points per game, third in the league, and shooting 49 percent from the field and 45 percent from 3-point range. She ranks first in single-season program history for 3-point percentage (.452) and second in 3-pointers made (89), a mark which is fifth in league history. Seibert was named the league's Player of the Week on Jan. 21.
Seibert was also named to the five-player Academic All-League Team as voted on by the institution's faculty athletics representatives and sports information directors as well as the Division I-AAA Athletic Directors Association Women's Scholar-Athlete list.
Seibert has made the Dean's List in every semester at Fort Wayne and has a 3.980 GPA majoring in communication science and disorders.
Steven Ball, Rockville, baseball, Marian – Named honorable-mention all-Crossroads League after batting .341 with 45 hits, 29 RBI, seven doubles and two triples. Had seven multi-RBI games and 12 multi-hit games.
R.J. Mahurin, Rockville, basketball, Indiana Wesleyan — Named a second-team NAIA All-American after helping lead the Wildcats to the Division II national championship, one of only six in school history.
In his only season at IWU, Mahurin averaged 18.1 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game. Shot 52.6 percent from the floor and hit 42 3-pointers. Was named to the all-NAIA championship tournament team after averaging 16.0 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the field in five games.
Kyle Funkhouser, Oak Forest (Ill.), baseball, Louisville — The son of former Terre Haute South athlete Dennis Funkhouser was named American Athletic Conference pitcher of the week of April 28. Won his team-leading ninth game of the season in Louisville's 3-1 series-opening victory over South Florida, striking out eight while scattering four hits in 7.1 shutout innings to improve to 9-2. Funkhouser has not allowed an earned run in his last 26.0 innings pitched dating back to the first inning of his win at Houston on April 11. For the season, Funkhouser has a 2.05 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 12 starts and 79.0 innings pitched.
Joey Bennett is a former Tribune-Star sports reporter and copy editor who now teaches at Northview High School in Brazil. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.