Missouri softball plays Black and Gold Game

The No. 9 Tigers are coming off a historic season.
Freshman Lindsey Muller hits a home run Saturday at Daniel Devine Indoor Pavillion to help the Black Team rally past the Gold Team. The Gold team fell back after an early lead in the first four innings to let the Black Team win 4-3 during the annual Missouri Softball Black and Gold Game.

After a record-breaking season last year, the Missouri softball team began its season with the annual Black and Gold game at the Daniel Devine Indoor Pavilion.

The Black team rallied from behind in the 10th inning on freshman third baseman Ashlie Ortega's double to seal the victory 4-3. Freshman pitcher Lindsey Muller earned the win for the Black team and also tied the game in the fifth inning with a solo home run.

Last season, the Tigers set a school record with 50 victories and earned their second Big 12 title. Ranked ninth in the preseason poll, Missouri hopes to continue its winning ways with a young group of core players and returning upperclassman.

Sophomore pitcher Chelsea Thomas leads a Missouri pitching staff that led the Big 12 with a 1.47 combined ERA last season. After compiling a record of 16-7 as a freshman, Thomas said the year of experience would make a big difference this season.

"I couldn't get much more of an experience going to the College World Series my freshman year," Thomas said. "It showed me where I was, and I got knocked around at the CWS, but I worked really hard this summer, and I feel very confident."

Coach Ehren Earleywine said Thomas developed after her year with Missouri.

"Chelsea came back this year a different pitcher," Earleywine said. "Last year she was primarily a drop-ball pitcher, and now she features a very good rise-ball and a changeup on occasion."

Thomas, who struck out 11 in seven innings for the Gold team, highlights a young team that features only three seniors. Many of the younger players have taken on leadership roles.

"After having a great sophomore season and being an All-American, (junior outfielder/infielder) Marla Schweisberger has been a vocal leader for us, as well as (junior outfielder) Rhea Taylor," Earleywine said. "Chelsea has also really stepped up in a leadership role as an underclassman."

After winning the Big 12 Tournament and competing in the Women's College World Series for the first time in 15 years, the bar is set high for the young Tigers. The off-season proved to be a time of learning for the freshmen.

"We had a lot of freshmen this year, so we had to catch them all up and get them clued into the program," senior utility player Gina Schneider said. "After that is just working on the little things that win ballgames."

Despite losing All-American third basemen Lindsey Ubrun, who led the team with 15 home runs, Earleywine said two new freshmen would help strengthen the lineup.

"Nicole Hudson, a left-handed, power hitting third baseman, had an electric fall for us and hit a lot of home runs," Earleywine said. "I think (shortstop) Jenna Marston is also going to be a great player on both sides of the ball. They are both going to add a lot to our lineup."

Carrying a No. 9 ranking, Missouri could face added pressure as expectations grow.

Earleywine and the Tigers have a different mindset.

"It's a nice honor to be in the top 10," Earlywine said. "But the truth is that our girls were offended by the No. 9 ranking. I think they feel they have a legitimate shot at a national championship, so I think they were a little perturbed by the ranking. That's a good thing when you have a group of kids that are mad with a No. 9 ranking in the nation."

The Tigers begin their regular season this Saturday in Alabama for a three game series against the No. 2 Crimson Tide.

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