Rachel Keller of the SIUE Cougars closed her softball career in style the past weekend.
The senior infielder, a Civic Memorial High graduate, earned all-tournament team honors as the Cougars finished second to Jacksonville State in the Ohio Valley Conference tourney at Oxford, Ala. Jacksonville State automatically qualified for the NCAA tournament, while the Cougars closed their season at 28-26.
“Our kids fought, battled and scrapped the whole tournament,” SIUE coach Sandy Montgomery said. “I can’t say enough about how proud I am of them.”
Keller was right in the middle of things as the Cougars won four consecutive games after bowing to Jacksonville State, 3-2, in their second game. Their fourth successive win was a 2-1 victory over Jacksonville State. However, the Gamecocks defeated the Cougars, 6-1, in the winner-take-all game.
Senior Jordan LaFave and junior Allison Smiley of SIUE joined Keller on the all-tourney team. It was Keller’s timely three-run home run in the sixth inning of Saturday’s 3-2 win over Eastern Kentucky that propelled the Cougars into the championship games of the double-elimination tournament. SIUE’s narrow win eliminated Eastern Kentucky.
Curiously, it was Keller’s first home run of the season. The infielder drove in 22 runs in 54 games and batted .234 for the season.
“I don’t think I could ever put it into words,” Keller said of her clutch home run. “That was an indescribable moment. It was nice to be there for my team and pick them up.”
LaFave reflected on the team’s tournament run and her four seasons as a Cougar. Keller and Kelsey Hansen also were members of SIUE’s first OVC softball title in 2014.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling. We have had a lot of accomplishments in our four years here,” LaFave said.
In what was SIUE’s third consecutive appearance in the OVC tournament title game, Montgomery said her senior class of Keller, Hansen and LaFave emerged as key performers.
“It was a pleasure to coach them,” Montgomery said. “They never let me down one time this week.”