Eastern to play Northwestern in regional NCAA tournament


Han Byer

Eastern’s softball team holds up the championship bracket in celebration after winning the OVC Softball championship against SIUE 2-0 Saturday in Oxford, Ala.

Han Byer, Sports Photographer/Writer

“Bring us our rings!”

 That is what the Eastern Illinois softball team was screaming post-win after it clutched the program’s first ever OVC Softball Championship title win Saturday in Oxford, Ala.

 The Panthers clinched the title with 2-0 win over the SIUE Cougars, with RBI’s from Jaylen Prichard and Amber Cieplinski. Freshman of the Year Kendall Grover made a diving catch to seal the third out the Panthers needed to take home the win.

 The Panthers went into the tournament seeded at number two. They took on Southern Indiana in the first game of the tournament, coming out with a 3-0 win against the Screaming Eagles. The Panthers then faced UT Martin in their second game of the tournament, winning 1-0 against the Skyhawks.

 In the third and final game of the tournament, the Panthers took home the win against SIUE, when pitcher Olivia Price only allowed two hits during the game.

 Price was head coach Tara Archibald’s first ever recruit at Eastern, which Archibald said is very special to her.

 “Olivia will always be special to my coaching career, to this program, and for her to have the week she had is really special,” Archibald said.

 Price was also awarded OVC Pitcher of the Year, OVC Championship MVP, and All-Tournament Team Honors for her performance throughout the season.

 Along with Price, Panther players Aniya Holt, Kendall Grover, and Amber Cieplinski were awarded All-Tournament Team Honors, along with SIUE Cougar players Lexi King, Sydney Ballman, and Paige Rocha.

Briana Gonzalez and Avary Makarewicz smile after the NCAA Selection, determining that they will play Northwestern in the first round of the NCAA Softball Tournament Sunday (Han Byer)

 In regard to feelings after the win, Archibald said she was very proud of the work the girls put into winning this championship.

 “I’m just proud of them,” Archibald said. “It took a lot of resilience, a lot of grit, a lot of toughness, and a lot of belief to win these games and I’m just so proud of how focused and determined they were to make it happen.”

The Eastern softball team holds pinkies in unity while standing for the national anthem prior to playing in the OVC Softball Championship against SIUE Saturday in Oxford, Ala. (Han Byer)

 Archibald said that when she took the job as head coach, she knew the program was capable of winning the OVC Championship.

 “It takes a lot to get players like the ones we had on the field today,” Archibald said. “They have to believe in me too and believe and my vision and believe that we all came here to win championships. They trusted me and my vision and came here and executed it and did it today so it’s a special, special day.”

The Panthers won their first Ohio Valley Conference Championship title Saturday afternoon against the SIUE cougars. (Han Byer)

 Price also shared some thoughts regarding the win.

 “It feels amazing,” Price said. “I kind of don’t really know what else to say, it’s just lovely and it feels amazing.”

 Price also gave credit to her team for helping her achieve Pitcher of the Year, OVC Championship MVP, and clinching the win.

“You obviously have to have a team to back you to, anybody could’ve earned that [MVP],” Price said. “I need my hitters, I need my defensive player, they backed me, and I needed all my teammates behind me to do that.”

Pitcher, Olivia Price (6), winds up her pitch during the OVC Softball Championship Saturday. The Panthers won 2-0 against SIUE. (Han Byer)

 Price also added that being awarded Pitcher of the Week multiple times along with her other awards adds a lot of pressure on herself to exceed her own and everyone else’s expectations.

“Everybody expects you to be on top,” Price said. “It’s like ‘Yeah you did good that week, but you got to keep doing it again and again’. You’ve got to prove them wrong every time.”

Prior to the sweeping SIUE in the Championship, the Panthers played UT Martin where there was no score until the top of the seventh inning. Price said there was talk about what to change going into the championship which helped them seal the deal.

“We talked last night and we were like ‘We can’t wait,’” Price said. “That’s the toughest inning to score, you can’t wait until the last inning. We scored twice before the seventh inning today which is very nice. It puts less stress on the pitchers. You can just do your thing and worry about yourselves.”

Following the win, Eastern was announced to be playing No. 12 seed, Northwestern Wildcats in the NCAA Softball Tournament. The Panthers will play at Northwestern to kick off the Regionals double elimination round. The dates for these games have not yet been announced.

Han Byer can be reached at [email protected].