AMES, Iowa -- South Dakota State softball opened its National Invitational Softball Championship run with an 8-6 victory Thursday over Eastern Kentucky.
The Jackrabbits (37-17) tallied nine hits, including three home runs, and held off a hard-charging Colonel squad in the seventh to advance in the Ames Regional.
Mallory McQuistan was 3-for-4 at the plate and joined Ali Herdliska with a three-run home run. Lyndsey Crist blasted a two-run home run to put the Jacks on the board midway through the game. Julia Andersen and Paige Gerdes added doubles.
Kendra Conard (18-5) tossed her 13th complete game of the season, limiting EKU to two hits through the first six innings. Conard finished with six runs allowed (three earned) on five total hits and four walks, but logged three strikeouts and rolled up 12 ground ball outs for her defense.
SDSU picked up the first hit of the game with a second-inning single from McQuistan, but it was Eastern Kentucky that struck first after a bases-loaded, RBI ground ball in the bottom of the second.
Down 1-0, the Jackrabbits looked for a rally with a pair of baserunners in the fourth, but were unable to break through until Crist launched a two-run home run in the fifth. Megan Rushing started the inning with a walk, and Crist flipped the score when she blasted the first pitch she saw over the center-field wall.
The Colonels tied it with heads-up, two-out base running in the bottom of the fifth, however, as a runner wheeled around to score from second as a throw went wide to first base.
All square at 2-2, the Jackrabbits used another long ball to take control for good in the sixth. Andersen doubled and Herdliska reached on an error to start the frame, and with runners on first and third McQuistan blasted a three-run shot to left for her sixth home run of the season.
EKU got one back in the bottom of the sixth to cut it to three, but State added three more insurance runs in the seventh on Herdliska's home run to go ahead, 8-3.
That breathing room came in handy as Eastern Kentucky rallied for three runs in the bottom of the inning, but SDSU held off any further push and escaped with the win.
• South Dakota State is now 4-2 all-time at the National Invitational Softball Championship.
• Thursday's win marked the 11th time this season the Jackrabbits have hit multiple home runs in a game.
• Kendra Conard is tied for fourth in the Jackrabbit record books with 18 wins this season.
• Ali Herdliska's 15 home runs this season is one shy of her and Devan Larsen's school record (16), which Herdliska set as a freshman.
• 37 wins matches last year's win total for the most in South Dakota State's Division I era.
South Dakota State will take on the winner of Purdue and Iowa State Friday at 1 p.m. in its second game at the Ames Regional in the National Invitational Softball Championship.