No. 18 Missouri softball (18-7, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) swept Illinois State, 4-2 and 5-0, in a double-header at University Field today.
Game 1 was a career game for the Tigers. Freshman pitcher Tori Finucane (8-3) pitched seven innings and delivered a career-high nine strikeouts. Redshirt sophomore second baseman Ashtin Stephens went 2 for 2 with 4 RBIs, also a career best.
Finucane said her record-setting day gives her hope for the rest of the season.
“It’s comforting,” she said. “It makes me happy knowing I’m getting better and that since I didn’t do well at Kentucky, coming back like that helps my confidence.”
The Tigers certainly seemed confident in the bottom of the second. On full count with two outs, junior first baseman Kelsea Roth singled through the left side for Missouri’s first hit of the game. Later, a Stephens RBI single to left field scored Roth to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
The Redbirds added a tying run in the next inning, but Stephens retaliated yet again in the fourth. An RBI double brought in both Roth and sophomore outfielder Sarah Moore to make it 3-1, Missouri.
ISU pitcher Regan Romshek blasted a solo homerun to center left field in the fifth inning to bring the Redbirds within one, but Finucane added two more strikeouts to end the threat. A Stephens sacrifice RBI flyout to right field in the sixth inning scored redshirt sophomore Carlie Rose to seal the game at 4-2.
Coach Ehren Earleywine took Stephens’ strong hitting with a grain of salt.
“Ashtin is the MVP today,” he said. “But it’s a sad thing when the nine-hole drives in all your runs. That’s not a good sign.”
Stephens’ performance saw her move from ninth to second in the Tigers’ batting order for Game 2.
“I try not to think of the nine-hole as a bad position, but it was definitely a confidence boost,” Stephens said.
In Game 2, freshman third baseman Natalie Fleming put Missouri on the board in the bottom of the second with her first career home run. Junior shortstop Corrin Genovese followed that up with an RBI single to bring in freshman Kelli Schkade from second base after a walk and a steal, giving the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
The Tigers didn’t have to wait much longer for more runs. In the bottom of the fifth, back-to-back singles from Genovese and Gadbois put two runners on base. Sophomore outfielder Emily Crane hit an RBI single through the left side to knock Genovese home, 3-0, Missouri.
Singles from Fleming and Rose had runners on first and second base when Genovese approached the plate in the sixth. Genovese sent a two-out RBI double deep to left center field, and both Fleming and Rose crossed the plate. The score held at 5-0 to give Missouri the sweep.
Freshman pitcher Casey Stangel held ISU to just two hits through seven innings with no walks. Despite having no strikeouts, Stangel’s slower-paced style was just as effective as Finucane’s.
“As a hitter, you start to get confident against the same pitcher,” Stangel said. “It’s going to mess you up as a hitter to have that change. It’s key for our pitching staff to have that difference between us.”
Earleywine said Stangel has learned how to settle in to her style.
“I’m going to give Casey a lot of credit,” he said. “She’s made a big shift in her pitching. Early in the season she was high octane, trying to throw hard. The harder she tried to throw, the more it frustrated her.”
Last week, Earleywine gifted Stangel with a book on former MLB pitcher Jamie Moyer to help her become more comfortable with her pitching process.
Did it work?
“Today, for seven innings, she quietly got people out,” Earleywine said. “And that’s what Jamie Moyer did for 20 years.”