Softball opens season in Santa Barbara

Coach Ehren Earleywine said he's sick of the schoolwide obsession with the SEC

The overarching storyline of the 2012-13 Missouri sports year is undoubtedly the schools move to the Southeastern Conference, but softball coach Ehren Earleywine hasn’t exactly gotten caught up in the school’s excitement over the move.

“In general, I’ll be honest with you, I’m so sick of the talk of the SEC,” Earleywine said. “It just makes me want to puke. I don’t care what conference it is, you know? Yeah, they’re a good softball conference, but so what? I think Mizzou has gotten too caught up in this SEC thing. Let’s just go play our sport, whatever it is.”

Luckily for Earleywine, Missouri fans won’t have to wait long to talk about actual games. The team will open its season this morning at UC Santa Barbara’s Gaucho Classic, playing a total of five games over the course of the weekend.

The Tigers recorded 17 hits in mid-40s weather at the Black and Gold game last Saturday, a solid performance they hope carries over into the regular season. In 2012, Missouri batted just .264, its worst average since 2006.

“Anybody that’s a Missouri fan is interested in how we swing the bat,” Earleywine said. “For this time of the year, in this temperature, all things considered I was pretty pleased with our offense in particular.”

Even more impressive than the weather the hits were produced in was who they came against. Although senior Chelsea Thomas struck out eight batters in three innings, the two-time All-American was hit hard a few times.

“I was really impressed,” Thomas said. “We hit the ball well. A couple of the girls had a good couple of innings off me, and as much as I hate to say it, I’m very pleasantly surprised by it.”

Senior catcher Jenna Marston was one of those batters contributing to the strong offensive showing. Marston, tenth on the team’s all-time doubles list, had an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh.

Marston played shortstop her first two seasons with the Tigers, switching to catcher her junior year.

“I’m definitely a lot more comfortable behind the plate than I was last year,” Marston said. “Definitely still a lot of room to improve. I know I’ll keep working all season with (assistant coach) Pete (D’Amour), coach (Earleywine), (volunteer assistant) coach (Phil) Bradley and everybody, but I’m definitely happy with how far I’ve come and hopefully I’ll just keep getting better.”

The main aspect of the position Marston and the coaching staff are working on is throwing out potential base stealers.

“J.J. (Marston) has to get better,” Earleywine said. “That’s definitely an Achilles heel of ours right now. She needs to be throwing out 33 percent or more of the would-be base stealers and last year I think she was in the low 20s.”

Missouri will face UC Santa Barbara and Fresno State on Friday. They will rematch Fresno State on Saturday along with a game against San Diego. The Tigers will wrap up the Gaucho Classic with a final matchup with UC Santa Barbara on Sunday morning.

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