No. 16 Missouri softball (27-10, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) captured its second conference series win of the year with a 2-1 victory over the weekend at Mississippi State.
Prior to the series, coach Ehren Earleywine emphasized the need for consistency against MSU’s solid pitching staff.
“We definitely have to hit well if we’re going to win,” Earleywine said. “That being said, we pretty much keep the same approach to every game that we face. We have to pitch well, too. We have to defend well, and we have to run bases well. If we don’t hit, it could be a really long weekend.”
As it turned out, he needn’t have worried.
The Tigers had their third 16-run weekend in conference play, with ten extra-base hits from five players over the course of the series against the Bulldogs.
Freshman pitcher Tori Finucane led Missouri to a 6-0 victory Friday evening, delivering a career-best 12 strikeouts while giving up only two hits and no walks. It was the highest strikeout count since Chelsea Thomas struck out 13 Louisiana State batters last season. Finucane’s performance earned her the title of SEC pitcher of the week.
“I’m happy for her, I felt like it was long overdue,” Earleywine said. “I’ve felt like there are a lot of players on our team who have had great conference weekends and we didn’t really have anything to show for it, so she kind of broke the seal for the team. It was well deserved, she pitched fantastic.”
The Tiger offense recorded 14 hits, including two triples. The last time Missouri hit two or more triples in a game was against Baylor in 2010.
Senior outfielder Mackenzie Sykes drove in the first run of the series with a sacrifice fly. Freshman catcher Kirsten Mack hit her first career triple to give the Tigers an early 2-0 lead. Sykes jump-started Missouri’s huge fourth inning with a leadoff triple, her second extra-base hit of the day. Freshman outfielder Natalie Fleming added a two-run homer, her third career long ball.
Sykes, who helped Missouri to a dramatic win over Georgia on March 29 with a three-run, walk-off home run said she doesn’t feel pressure at the plate.
“It doesn’t really matter, for me, the situation,” Sykes said. “If there are runners on base, you’re always trying to hit them in. If there’s nobody on base, you’re trying to get on base to get something started. I don’t really change my approach at the plate that much as far as gearing up and getting psyched up for the moment.”
After dropping the second game, 9-3, in the first leg of Saturday’s doubleheader, Missouri got back to business.
Finucane added four more strikeouts to help clinch the series in an 8-1 win, despite allowing nine Mississippi State hits. Junior infielder Corrin Genovese went 2 for 4 at the plate with three RBIs and a run.
Sophomore second baseman Ashtin Stephens and Genovese opened the scoring for the Tigers in the second and third innings, each with a two-RBI hit. The Bulldogs allowed two consecutive walks, followed by an error, to give Missouri a 6-0 lead at the end of the third. Genovese drove in another run, and freshman infielder Kelli Schkade hit her first collegiate home run in the seventh inning to end the game.
Despite the victorious outcome, Earleywine was not completely satisfied. Echoing Sykes, he said that his team let overconfidence get the best of them.
“I don’t feel like we were real consistent,” Earleywine said. “The first game I think we showed up with pretty good energy, and then after they beat us in the second game. I felt like the third game we woke up again. But that second game, I guess all we felt like we had to do was show up, and certainly that’s not the case in the SEC.”
Missouri takes on Western Illinois in a doubleheader Wednesday at University Field.