There’s an old saying about how opportunity only knocks once. In Missouri softball freshman Maddison Ruggeberg’s case, she made sure opportunity made plenty of return visits.
Given a pinch-hit appearance in the second game of the season against Fresno State, Ruggeberg calmly took a pitch to left field for a single. Impressed, coach Ehren Earleywine gave her another pinch-hit chance the next game, and she reached base again.
“I gave her another at-bat, she hit a home run, and before you know it, she’s in the lineup every day,” Earleywine said. “Not only does she get playing time, but she wasn’t touted to get playing time. It’s further proof that when you get your opportunities, do something with them, and we will give you more opportunities.”
Ruggeberg made the most of her chance on the way to one of the more impressive freshman campaigns in recent Missouri history. She ranks third on the team with a .339 batting average and has 37 hits, four home runs and 23 RBIs on the season.
Ruggeberg said playing time was the last thing she expected before the season.
“I kind of expected to just come in here and do whatever I had to do,” Ruggeberg said. “I didn’t really expect to play much or anything, so it’s been a real treat. We have a good infield with Abby (Vock) and JJ (Jenna Marston) and Nicole (Hudson) coming back, so I was like ‘Eh, don’t really think it’ll happen.’”
But after she batted 10-for-25 over an 11-game stretch to start the season, Earleywine couldn’t justify keeping the upstart freshman out of the lineup. Ruggeberg has started all but 10 of Missouri’s games and caught the eye of veterans like senior Catherine Lee.
“Maddie’s a great kid," Lee said. "We enjoy the way she plays. She goes hard, and that’s a huge thing for us because that’s kind of our mentality. Maddie has really bought into that and what the coaches are giving her. She’s a coachable kid, she’s a likable kid, and you rarely ever see her get down.”
Hard work and a willingness to learn have been key to Ruggeberg’s breakout season. In her free time, Ruggeberg likes to do CrossFit strength and conditioning workouts, which Lee jokingly called an “insane” part of her work ethic. Earleywine said Ruggeberg’s coachability is a special trait.
“When you tell her something, she doesn’t blink,” Earleywine said. “I mean, she is literally just right up on top of you, sponging that information in. It’s nice when a kid is coachable, works hard and (is) talented. That’s a rare combination.”
For the future, Earleywine said he wants to find a permanent position during the summer for Ruggeberg to play next season. He called her a player with a “high ceiling,” and he hopes her experience as a leader in high school will carry over eventually.
“Now, that’s certainly not her role here, but it’s nice to know she has that quality that in a couple of years she could evolve into that kid,” Earleywine said. “She’s just such a poised kid with almost a veteran demeanor. It’s very fun to watch. When she hits a home run, she acts like she’s done it before. Little things like that tell you that she’s a baller.”