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Offensive struggles plague Mizzou softball in weekend series versus Ole Miss

The Tigers could only muster seven runs over three games.

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Maneater File Photo

May 8, 2017

Mizzou softball’s Southeastern Conference woes continued against No. 21 Ole Miss over the weekend. The Tigers were shut out in Friday night’s loss and were then run-ruled 12-4 in Saturday’s matchup, which ended after six innings. A combination of sloppy play in the field and limited success at the plate doomed the Tigers in the two losses.

Senior ace Cheyenne Baxter carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning on Friday night before allowing three earned runs. Ole Miss would tack on three more runs in the sixth off sophomore Danielle Baumgartner and freshman Parker Conrad.

Mizzou couldn’t get anything going on the offensive side. The team managed just four hits and was unable to figure out Ole Miss ace Kaitlin Lee.

A plethora of errors sunk the Tigers on Saturday. Mizzou committed a program record seven errors, breaking the previous mark of six committed against Drake in 2005. Ole Miss took advantage of the Tigers’ defensive blunders, scoring 12 runs. Only seven of those Ole Miss runs scored were earned.

Sophomore Madi Norman tossed five innings and allowed six earned runs, earning her ninth loss of the season.

The Tigers’ offense picked up a bit after their weak performance Friday night. The uptick was mainly due to senior Kirsten Mack’s team-high 17th multi-hit game of the season. Mack also drove in one of Mizzou’s four runs, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Tigers’ sloppy play in the field.

The loss ensured that Mizzou would not win a single SEC series this season.

Mizzou looked to rebound Sunday on senior day, where seniors Anna Reed, Natalie Fleming, Chloe Rathburn, Baxter and Mack were honored during a pregame ceremony.

Baxter toed the mound again for the Tigers on Sunday, looking for her seventh SEC win of the season. She struggled early and found herself caught in a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first inning. Baxter struck out the next batter, then forced a fly out to right field to work her way out of it.

Ole Miss got on the board first, scoring in the fourth inning. With one out and the bases loaded, Rebels outfielder Kylan Becker hit a sharp ground ball toward junior Paige Bange at third base. Bange tried to throw home for the forceout, but her throw sailed high and Mack could not corral it. Ole Miss plated two runs on the error and advanced runners to second and third. Ole Miss threatened to score again on a ball hit to sophomore Kolby Romaine at second base, but Romaine fielded the ball cleanly and fired a dart to Mack to throw the runner out at home.

“It was a big moment in the game,” coach Ehren Earleywine said of the play after the game. “I was kind of shocked she decided to go home because that ball took her to her left and I didn’t know if she had a chance at the runner at home. But it turns out to be a big play, and that’s more of what will happen when people are comfortable at positions.”

The sequence in the fourth inning highlighted a position issue the Tigers have been dealing with over the past few weeks. Romaine had started at third base on Saturday but was swapped out for Bange on Sunday as Earleywine still searches for whom he wants to play at third.

“If I had to make a lineup now for Wednesday’s game in the SEC tournament, I don’t know who’d be at third base,” Earleywine said. “That’s going to be the focal point of our practice, trying to get somebody comfortable over there and then go with it.”

When Mizzou needed it most, its seniors rose to the occasion. Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Reed smacked a solo home run to right-center to tie the game and send the contest to extra innings.

“I was so pumped that I could produce for my team, it was so exciting,” Reed said after the game. “Just seeing everybody else getting so happy for me is awesome.”

The Tigers loaded the bases in the ninth inning with two outs, and Bange stepped to the plate looking to give the team its seventh SEC win of the season. She hit a grounder to Rebels third baseman Dylinn Stancill, but Lady Luck was on the Tigers’ side as Stancill committed an error that allowed the winning run to score.

Baxter went the distance through extra innings and pitched the Tigers to victory. Over her nine innings pitched, she struck out five batters and allowed no earned runs. The win marked Baxter’s 16th of the season, which includes her seven wins over SEC opponents. The rest of the Tigers’ pitching staff was unable to record a single win over conference opponents.

Mizzou closed the regular season with a 29-25 record and a 7-16 record in SEC play, its lowest win total since Earleywine took over the program in 2007. The Tigers will be the No. 11 seed in the SEC tournament and play No. 6 seed LSU on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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