The No. 10 Missouri softball team has experimented with its lineup as of late.
When it was clear the Tigers (38-11, 14-7 Big 12 Conference) could no longer defend their Big 12 title following their series loss to No. 5 Oklahoma the weekend of April 20, coach Ehren Earleywine placed new faces on his lineup card.
Sophomore outfielder Mackenzie Sykes seized the opportunity. During the Oklahoma series, Sykes led the Tigers offensively, going 4-for-11 in three games while primarily hitting lead off.
Wednesday’s split double-header against Murray State, though, proved not all cases could be as fruitful as Sykes’. When Earleywine put players in the lineup who had not seen much time on the field, the outcomes were the close 5-4 win and the 3-2 loss.
“(Wednesday was) just an embarrassing day in MU softball history, and I hope we don’t play like this anymore,” Earleywine said.
Senior outfielder Ashley Fleming was part of that experiment, coming to the pitch the sixth inning in the first game even though she hadn’t pitched all season. Earleywine said he put her in to give freshman pitcher Bailey Erwin a break after pitching four innings. His decision nearly cost the Tigers the game, as the Racers scored four runs to tie the game.
“You try experimenting, and sometimes it bites you in the butt,” Earleywine said.
Fleming said the players knew they didn’t perform as well as they should have.
“In situations like that, we don’t really need (Earleywine) to tell us anything because we know,” Fleming said. “We knew the whole game that we weren’t doing what we should be doing.”
Despite the loss to a team Earleywine considers “mid-tier,” he said he would continue to experiment with the lineup until he finds the one that manufactures the most runs.
“I have to continue experimenting with the lineup because there are so many people that we were counting on that are not producing,” Earleywine said. “It would be different if we had six or seven kids that were lighting it up, but we don’t. We’re just trying to find matches that will work down the stretch.”
The Tigers are hoping to bounce back with three wins at No. 12 Oregon this weekend. Earleywine said as of Wednesday he was unsure of what the lineup will look like.
“I have to temper my emotion with logic and facts, and I’m not able to do that very well right now,” Earleywine said. “Hopefully this weekend I’ll have some questions answered because we’re almost done.”
As the postseason draws near, this weekend will be the last chance the players have to prove themselves worthy of being in the lineup.
“By the end of the Oklahoma State series (next weekend), experimenting time is over,” Earleywine said. “We’re going to have set a lineup.”
The Tigers will begin their series with the Ducks at 8 p.m. Friday in Eugene, Ore.