The Maneater

Softball struggles at the plate in first two games against Kentucky

Pitching proved to be the sole bright spot in freshman Parker Conrad’s third start of the season.

Maneater File Photo

After three big wins in the team’s midweek games, Missouri softball (27-20) has not had the same success in its first two games against Kentucky (29-13) this weekend.

The Tigers have failed to capitalize early in a fairly evenly matched series, losing the first two of three games due to ineffective offense and struggles in the outfield.

“We played really, really bad softball,” coach Ehren Earleywine said after the team’s 4-2 loss Friday. “We missed four or five signs, we had two or three baserunning mistakes, and as far as our at-bats, it was making the same mistakes over and over and over. Those are the things that frustrate you as a coach because those are the things that you can control. There were so many ways that we could’ve won that game — so many — and there were so few ways that we could’ve lost it. And we found a way to lose it.”

On Friday night, the Tigers struggled to take offensive control after being overpowered by Kentucky lefty Meagan Prince. Defensively, the Tigers made several key errors in the outfield that led to Kentucky runs. Garrison failed to catch a fly ball to right field in the fifth inning, leading to two unearned Kentucky runs. A ball also dropped between Garrison and Kessinger in the outfield, an error of miscommunication.

“Both of those plays were hesitation plays,” Earleywine said after Friday’s game. “You have to play fearless softball if you’re going to win in the SEC. You have to have a ‘go-for-it’ mentality.”

Sophomore first baseman Rylee Pierce understood their struggles and said she knows slumps are inevitable. “[Kessinger] and [Garrison] have both played outfield pretty much their whole lives,” sophomore first baseman Rylee Pierce said after Friday’s game. “And so, those balls usually get caught. We’re all going to hit slumps, both offensively and defensively, and so we just have to ride it as a team because that’s the only way to go.”

Pierce did hit a home run in Friday’s game, a solo shot to center in the sixth inning. It was her eighth home run of the season, the third most of the team this year.

“She hadn’t really given me a really good pitch to hit the whole entire game,” Pierce said. “My mindset going into the third one was, ‘Get a good pitch to hit,’ and that’s what I did.”

Pitching was not the problem, however. On Friday night, senior pitcher Cheyenne Baxter pitched six strong innings, with sophomore Danielle Baumgartner closing out the team’s 4-2 loss.

Saturday was no better for the team, which was held to one hit until two outs into the seventh inning. The late offensive spark arrived too late; Mizzou lost 4-0 after being shut down again, this time by a different Kentucky lefthanded pitcher, Erin Rethlake.

“I just think we were swinging at bad pitches,” sophomore left fielder Regan Nash said. “I was looking for ones up in the zone. I just made sure to lay off the rises and then wait for her to bring me a pitch up in the zone.”

Nash, a lefthanded hitter, had two of the team’s three total hits on Saturday. Earleywine voiced an overall frustration over the team’s lack of offense through the first two games of the Kentucky series.

“Our hitting approach today, it was backwards,” Earleywine said. “We were swinging at the pitches that I was hoping we would take and taking the pitches I was hoping we would swing at.”

One positive for the team was freshman pitcher Parker Conrad, who had her longest start of the season with a five-inning outing against the Wildcats in just her third start of the season. After letting up two runs in the first, she settled down and delivered key offspeed pitches to offset Kentucky’s offense.

“[I] felt good, felt like I was finally getting in the groove that I needed to,” Conrad said. “[I] needed some batters just to kinda settle myself in. I’m grateful to play the game, and when I get my chance, I just take it. If it works out for me, great. If it doesn’t, then I always have something to work for for the next time.”

Conrad found her stride in the game’s middle innings. After the game, she pointed to her control on the mound for why she found so much success after her struggles in the early going.

“I kind of just made sure I took my time in between each pitch and really focused on, ‘This needs to be a strike, you need to do it right,’” Conrad said. “It worked out better, and I kinda took the pace of the game into my hands instead of allowing them to get any kind of momentum.”

The Tigers will wrap up their series against Kentucky at noon Sunday at home. The team’s next series will be at No. 16 LSU (33-14) on Friday, April 28.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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