Pitching propels Tigers to 3-2 start to the season

The Tiger pitching staff allowed just 12 runs total over the five games.
head coach Larissa Anderson calls pitches during the Tiger Pantry charity game on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018.

Missouri softball has had a tumultuous last calendar year.

Just days before the start of the 2018 season, athletic director Jim Sterk fired longtime coach Ehren Earleywine. The program made the NCAA Tournament in each of his 11 seasons at the helm, but he repeatedly came under fire for his controversial coaching style, including allegations of being verbally abusive to players as well as making disparaging comments to an opposing coach.

Scrambling to find a replacement before the season started, Sterk named assistant coach Gina Fogue interim head coach. She was given the position for the duration of the season and had the opportunity to earn the full time gig.

The Tigers failed to qualify for the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but found a way into the NCAA Tournament thanks to their difficult schedule. They were eliminated from the tournament on the opening weekend and Fogue was not retained. Instead, Larissa Anderson, fresh off a successful run at Hofstra University, was brought in to take the reins and restore order to a tradition-rich program.

Missouri started its season with five games over a three day span in Tempe, Arizona, at the Tempe Sports Complex. On Friday, the Tigers blanked the Utah Utes by the score of 9-0 and later that night shut out the No. 12 Arizona State Sun Devils, 8-0.

In the first game, the Tigers got six shutout innings from Tipton, Missouri, native and rotation anchor Madi Norman. The redshirt senior scattered two hits and two walks while striking out six.

On offense, the Tigers employed a balanced attack. Center fielder Callie Martin had a run-scoring double to get things started. After scoring two more on an error to stretch the lead to three, third baseman Kimberly Wert hit a two-run shot to center field to break the game open. Left fielder Regan Nash added two hits and two runs batted in out of the leadoff spot. First baseman Kolby Romaine hit a solo home run and pinch hitter Geana Torres had an RBI double to complete the scoring. The game ended via mercy rule after six innings.

In Friday’s second contest, the Tigers got out to an even quicker start. Torres was inserted into the starting lineup at designated hitter based on her pinch hit homer in game one, and she rewarded coach Anderson’s faith with a first inning grand slam.

Before Cassie Gasper took the mound, the Tigers were staked to a 4-0 lead. Martin added a three-run shot in the third inning as the lead ballooned to seven. Gasper was strong throughout, pitching five scoreless innings while giving up just three hits, walking two and striking out three. Romaine added a sacrifice fly to plate the eighth run and the game was called via mercy rule after just five innings.

On the first day of the season, the Tigers outscored their opponents by a combined 17-0.

The state of Oregon had Missouri’s number on Saturday. The Tigers lost 6-1 to the No. 25 ranked Oregon Ducks and later that afternoon fell to the Oregon State Beavers, 4-3 in eight innings.

Against the Ducks, the Tigers failed to capitalize on early opportunities. They left three runners in scoring position in the first two innings and five total in the game. Oregon scored two runs in the third on a sacrifice fly by April Utecht and a single from Shaye Bowden. Missouri then fell behind 4-0 in the fifth inning. The Tigers’ lone run came on a solo shot in the sixth by second baseman Kendyll Bailey, the first of her career.

"In the first game, we just gave up too many free bases," coach Larissa Anderson said in a press release. "We can't expect to win many games giving up nine walks and having three errors.”

The Tigers capped the day with a nail-biting loss to Oregon State. The Beavers jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead in the first, but Missouri tied it with a single from Hatti Moore. Entering the bottom of the fifth inning, Missouri trailed 3-2. With two outs, third baseman Kim Wert evened the game up with a solo homer. Both teams were held scoreless in the sixth and seventh innings, but Oregon State broke the tie with an RBI single in the eighth. Norman, taking the hill yet again, pitched a complete game for the Tigers and allowed two earned runs.

“In game two, we had our chances to win,” Anderson said in a press release. “We need to experience games like this to learn how to capitalize on those opportunities. The one opportunity to win a game like that might come in the first inning and we need to learn to take advantage of that"

Missouri finished off the weekend with a win over rival Kansas on Sunday in the teams’ first meeting since 2015.

The Jayhawks took an early lead with a run in the bottom of the first, but the Tigers took the lead in the top of the second, scoring twice.

The Tiger offense picked up again in the top of the seventh. Pinch hitter freshman Jazmyn Rollin got on base with a single, then advanced to second base on a fielder’s choice. A line drive by sophomore Brooke Wilmes scored Rollin.

Kansas tried to come back in the bottom of the seventh, but only managed to score one run. The Tigers held onto the lead, winning 3-2.

Norman earned the win with five strikeouts in 6.2 innings. Gasper came in during the seventh with a strikeout to end the game.

"I was very proud of our fight today," coach Anderson said in a press release. "It was really fun to bring back such a storied rivalry. It was even more fun to win it. This weekend provided us with some great, competitive games, which helps us see what we need to improve on going forward."

Missouri will head to Orlando, Florida, for the Citrus Blossom Classic, which begins on Feb. 15.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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