The Maneater

Lack of timely hitting dooms Missouri against Arkansas

The Tigers batted 3-for-15, with runners in scoring position in three games against the Razorbacks.

Sophomore pitcher Danielle Baumgartner, 10, launches the ball during the home game facing Butler on March 5, 2017.

The Arkansas Razorbacks saw several different versions of Missouri senior ace pitcher Cheyenne Baxter this weekend.

On Friday, she was unhittable. Baxter threw a complete game shutout with eight strikeouts in the Tigers’ 1-0 win. On Saturday, however, the senior from Norborne, Missouri entered the game in the seventh inning with the Tigers leading 5-4 and let their lead slip away for a 6-5 loss.

“Well, Friday night she was great. Saturday, she didn’t show up,” coach Ehren Earleywine said after the series finale on Sunday. “And [Sunday] I think she was somewhere in between the two.”

As Earleywine pointed out, her start on Sunday fell right in the middle. Baxter exited the game after recording the first out of the fourth inning. During her 3.1 innings, Baxter allowed two home runs, failed to strike out any batters and walked just one. The Tigers dropped the finale 4-2.

Baxter earned all three decisions of the Arkansas series, making her record 9-4 on the season. Saturday’s loss was her first since Feb. 12 against Florida.

“[Sunday], she was ready, she was focused, she just didn’t have the stuff,” Earleywine said. “[Saturday], she wasn’t ready.”

Freshman pitcher Parker Conrad, who missed a month due to injury, made two appearances this weekend. Her two-inning stint on Saturday marked the first time she pitched two innings in an appearance since Feb. 11.

“Part of what she’s going through right now is she’s coming off of being unhealthy, so she’s building back some of her strength,” Earlywine said. “And with that strength comes velocity. So if she can get back up into the mid-60s with her rise, that could be great for us. And I think this weekend was at least one step, if not two, in the right direction for her.”

Missouri’s offense struggled against Arkansas. In Friday’s win, the Tigers could muster just two hits and scored their only run on a wild pitch. The Tigers were held hitless in Sunday’s loss in the final four and two-thirds innings.

More worrisome was Missouri’s inability to capitalize with runners in scoring position. The team hit 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position over the course of the weekend and was 0-for-5 on Sunday. During the first inning of Sunday’s game, the Tigers had runners on second and third with no outs and failed to bring in a single run.

“That was a killer,” Earleywine said. “We gotta cash in right there. We talked in our post-game meeting about how to execute a quality at-bat when you need one, and there has to be a heightened sense of focus, a little bit more dialed-in, knowing that this is an opportunity to break this thing open.”

There were a few bright spots for the Tigers. Senior Kirsten Mack roped a two-run homerun to right field on Sunday that gave the team a brief 2-1 lead.

“Kirsten had really high hands and looked tight, and I said, ‘Just drop your hands down, loosen ’em up and think about getting some buggy whip, and just throwing some head on that drop ball,’” Earleywine said. “And it loosened her up, and she let it fly.”

Senior Chloe Rathburn came alive during the weekend, hitting her first home run of the season Saturday. She recorded a hit in each game and noted that her changed batting stance was having a positive impact on her swing.

“Usually, I have a really open stance,” Rathburn said. “I have a high leg kick, I drop my hands a little bit, and I follow through. This time, I’ve decided to have a closer stance. I’m straightforward towards the pitcher, and my hands are lifted right above my shoulder so everything is more flat, everything is more straight.”

Rathburn moved from seventh to fifth to second in Missouri’s batting order over the course of the weekend. Earleywine said that didn’t mean Rathburn would stay at the top of the order the rest of the season but that he wanted to get her as many hitting chances as possible.

After the series, the Tigers are 21-16 and 4-7 in Southeastern Conference play. They play next at home on Tuesday in a doubleheader against Western Illinois.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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