The Maneater

Mizzou softball moving forward after Earleywine’s firing

Despite former coach Ehren Earleywine being fired on Jan. 26, the Tigers believe they have what it takes to compete this season.

Freshman Kara Decker prepares for a pitch during the Black & Gold game on Feb. 3, 2018.

In the final days before the 2018 season officially began, Athletic Director Jim Sterk notified the softball team that Ehren Earleywine, the Tigers’ head coach for 11 years, had been fired.

“I was just as shocked as everybody,” interim head coach Gina Fogue said. “[It’s] definitely bittersweet. I learned a lot from [Earleywine], and I just hope to build off of what we have.”

Fogue played at Mizzou from 2006-10 and was a part of two College World Series runs during Earleywine’s tenure. Fogue served as director of operations for two seasons before being promoted in 2013 to an on-field coaching position, one she held until taking over as interim head coach after the news broke out about Earleywine’s firing on Jan. 26.

“The initial shock was hard on all of us, but the girls on this team have great chemistry and know that we just have to move forward,” Fogue said. “All of [the players] have come together, and they just want to win.”

Earleywine is leaving behind a team that went to 11 straight NCAA Regionals and made three Women’s College World Series appearances during his tenure. This will be the first season since 2006 that a Missouri softball team is not being led by Earleywine.

Despite Earleywine’s departure, sophomore shortstop Braxton Burnside, a 2017 Freshman All-SEC player, said the team is using the situation as motivation for this season.

“I think we are using this to rally together,” Burnside said. “Everyone thinks that we are taking a hit, so we are trying to bounce back as best as we can, and I think we are starting off really well.”

Burnside complemented her former coach and acknowledged what Earleywine did for the team.

“Our relationship with coach E was great; he was a really great coach and great person,” Burnside said. “I guess some people can’t say the same, but he demanded success, and to me, that is what it is all about.”

Burnside had a record-setting freshman season, hitting 12 home runs and recording 52 RBIs, the second-most RBIs in a season by a freshman in school history. Her season included a 10-RBI game on March 18, 2017, against North Dakota State, setting a Mizzou softball record for most RBIs in a game.

“I sent Coach Earleywine a text message letting him know that his voice is always going to be in the back on my head,” Burnside said. “He had so much knowledge about the game. When I got here, I didn’t think I had a lot to learn, but I learned a ton, and I was definitely thankful for that.”

Even though this year’s team is without Earleywine, the Tigers haven’t changed their expectations to maintain the winning culture that has been laid out the past 11 years.

“We have really high expectations this year,” Burnside said. “We have a really good freshman class and a lot, a lot of talent.”

Junior first baseman Rylee Pierce, who hit .377 when leading off an inning last year, talked about how the in-house promotion of Fogue helps keep the same culture inside the clubhouse.

“It couldn’t have been more ideal,” Pierce said. “If you would have brought in a new coach, there would have a totally new system and personality. This way, we knew what to expect and just moved on.”

Fogue will look to continue the success that Mizzou softball has experienced the past decade while building on the foundation that was laid before her.

“We expect to do great things,” Fogue said. “We’ve got a tremendously talented group and we’re looking to keep our goals what they [have been].”

Missouri’s season starts Feb. 8 against San Jose State at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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