Missouri softball loses second straight SEC series

Missouri won on Saturday but lost on Friday and Sunday in two sloppy games.
Third baseman Trenity Edwards exits the dugout before playing against Drake University in the final game of the Mizzou Tournament on March 4, 2018.

Missouri softball hosted the No. 20 Mississippi State Bulldogs in its second Southeastern Conference series of the year this past weekend. The Tigers started 0-3 in the SEC after being swept by No. 4 Tennessee last weekend and looked to right the ship against the Bulldogs, but ultimately lost two out of three games in the series.

In the first game of the series, Missouri struggled mightily on offense, stranding 11 runners on base over the course of the game. Freshman pitcher Lauren Rice pitched well throughout 6.2 innings, however, and kept the Tigers within striking distance. Missouri was ultimately defeated 4-0 on Friday. It was the Tigers’ third shutout loss of the year and their sixth loss in a row.

Missouri collected five hits and four walks, including two hits by right fielder Kolby Romaine but couldn’t capitalize when runners were on base.

“We were knocking on the door all night, but just couldn’t break through when we needed to,” interim head coach Gina Fogue said in a press release Friday.

Despite a poor offensive performance, Rice kept the Tigers in the game with strong pitching that ended one out shy of a complete game. Rice allowed three earned runs and collected two strikeouts against a nationally ranked opponent.

“I was really pleased to see Lauren [Rice] bounce back from Wednesday against Illinois and turn in a solid performance in the circle tonight,” Fogue said in the press release. “I thought she pitched well and she gave us a chance to win throughout the whole night.”

The Missouri defense also had a couple miscues, committing three errors that led to an unearned run. Two errors were committed in the top of the fifth inning, but Rice worked around runners on second and third with only one out to end of the inning unscathed.

The game was Missouri’s ninth against a ranked opponent this year, and the Tigers played two more games against a ranked team before the weekend was out.

On a very cold Saturday afternoon, Missouri took on Mississippi State again, and the game was a slightly different story.

Redshirt junior Madi Norman got the start, and despite giving up three hits and a walk in the first two innings, she was able to get out of trouble and keep Mississippi State scoreless early on. However, in the third inning, Missouri committed an error which lead to two unearned runs, and Mississippi State took an early 2-0 lead.

However, this game was different, remember. Instead of going down quietly, Missouri’s bats got hot and scored four runs on four hits. After loading the bases on two walks and a bunt single, Romaine drilled a line drive down the third base line that was just inside the bag, clearing the bases and giving Missouri a 3-2 lead. Later in the inning, junior Rylee Pierce extended the lead to 4-2 with a sacrifice fly to shallow center field.

“Hitting is contagious, as we put together great at bats beginning with Kolby [Romaine’s] big three RBI double in the third inning,” Fogue said.

At the top of the fourth inning, Norman shut down Mississippi State in a 1-2-3 inning, keeping the momentum intact. This continued in the fifth inning when she pitched yet another scoreless inning and collected her fifth strikeout of the game.

“Madi [Norman] was excellent for us in the circle today and gave us some big shutdown innings after we put up some runs for her on offense,” Fogue said after Saturday’s victory.

Missouri broke through again in the fifth inning after Brooke Wilmes doubled to right field on a ball that struck the first base bag and shot down the line, extending Missouri’s lead to 5-2. Martin and Sanchez both followed with infield singles that scored another pair of runs, driving up the score to 7-2 after five innings.

In the seventh inning Mississippi State rallied with two outs to scratch a run across and bring the tying run on deck, but Norman cut the rally short and secured the 7-3 victory for Missouri.

It was the Tigers’ first win against a ranked opponent this season, and their first SEC win. It snapped a six-game losing streak and improved the Tigers record to 17-13 on the year, 1-4 in SEC play. The seven runs scored were the most in a game for the Tigers since March 4 against Drake. Eight different Tigers collected a hit, with four collecting two hits. Romaine led the offense with three RBI, and Norman took command in the circle collecting five strikeouts in her complete game win, improving her record to 6-2 on the season.

Missouri got the chance to win the series against Mississippi State on Sunday afternoon, but came up short.

The Tigers played very sloppy defense, with two ugly errors leading to extra bases for the Bulldogs. The offense and pitching would not be any better, as the team gave up six runs and collected only four hits on the day.

Rice started off the game on a high note, getting through the first inning in only 10 pitches. But things went downhill from there, as she gave up two runs in the second inning, a solo homer to left field in the third and another homer to right field in the fourth.

The relief pitching from the Tiger’s bullpen struggled at first, as sophomore Eli Daniel walked in a run. But junior Danielle Baumgartner saved the game from getting worse. She came in with bases loaded, and turned a 6-4-3 ground double play to end the inning. She then pitched a scoreless fifth inning, but gave up a run in the sixth after a wild pitch.

The Tigers’ bats were cold, collecting three runs off of four hits. Sophomores Cayla Kessinger and Braxton Burnside and freshman Hatti Moore were the only ones to get any hits for the Tigers. Burnside had two runs batted in, Moore had a single hit late in the game and Kessinger went 2-for-4 with a run.

Fogue wasn’t happy with her team’s offensive performance.

"Consistency has been a message we've preached to this team all season,” Fogue said after Sunday’s loss. “Offensively, again it goes back to consistency as we put together some good stretches over the three games but weren't regularly producing quality at bats."

The Tigers now sit 17-14 on the season, with their next matchup against Southeast Missouri in Cape Girardeau for a doubleheader on Wednesday, March 21.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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