The Maneater

Softball’s first weekend at home features new stadium, mixed results

The Tigers went 3-3 on the weekend.

Sophomore first baseman Rylee Pierce, 36, holds a tag on Oregon’s baserunner, but receives a safe call from the umpire.

Mizzou hosted five teams in the Mizzou Tournament from March 4-6. Some would say it was a tournament of firsts for Missouri softball (10-8). The team saw its first no-hitter tossed since 2013. It played its first games at the brand new Mizzou Stadium. And the team played its first extra inning game of the season.

On the other hand, it was also a tournament of patterns. The Tigers went 3-3 on the weekend, and split each doubleheader in the tournament.

“To be 3-3 is just unacceptable,” head coach Ehren Earleywine said after the team’s last game of the weekend. “But I will say this: We seem to be making incremental, small baby steps of making improvements. And if you put four or five little things together, you can change the entire softball game. And we will.”

Friday and Saturday

No. 24 Mizzou opened Mizzou Stadium with a top-25 matchup against No. 4 Oregon. The Ducks entered the Missouri Invitational 14-0 and continued that streak in two rout wins of Mizzou, 10-3 on Friday and 7-2 on Saturday.

In both losses, the Ducks jumped out early on Mizzou’s ace, redshirt sophomore Madi Norman. She allowed seven earned runs between the two games. However, there is no lack of confidence in Norman moving forward for the Earleywine.

“The thing that separates ace pitchers is the mentality,” Earleywine said. “We didn’t know she [Norman] had that type of makeup until two weeks into [the season]. This kid gets after it.”

Offensively, the Tigers had trouble scoring runs when needed. Outside of home runs from junior Amanda Sanchez and freshman Braxton Burnside in the first game against Oregon, the Tigers struggled at the plate.

“We didn’t have any timely hitting,” Earlywine said. “We are just going to have to get better at it; ours swings did not match the count.”

Mizzou was able to find success, however, against Stephen F. Austin and Maryland. On Friday, the Tigers mercy-ruled Stephen F. Austin 14-6 in the fifth inning behind great hitting performances from sophomore Regan Nash, Sanchez and Burnside, who had two, three and four RBIs respectively.

Despite the win against Stephen F. Austin, Earleywine had some tough words about the opening loss against Oregon.

“First of all, I’m very grateful for the stadium and everything that goes along with it,” Earleywine said. “But the product that we put on the field tonight is not deserving of a new stadium. We owe it to our fans and the state of Missouri to be better.”

Mizzou also had success against Maryland on Saturday, winning 2-0. Norman and sophomore Danielle Baumgartner combined for seven scoreless innings and allowed only four hits. The Tigers were held scoreless till the bottom of the fourth inning, when pinch hitter junior Paige Bange reached second base on an error, allowing Rylee Pierce to score. Mizzou would push its lead to two in the bottom of the sixth. Kolby Romaine’s single to center brought Pierce home once again.

Sunday

Mizzou’s Sunday games played out in typical fashion for the Tigers this season: one win and one loss in a doubleheader. Missouri entered the seventh inning against Maryland (3-15-1) ahead 7-1 after a six-run sixth inning. But in the top of the seventh inning, a Missouri error and a series of hits led to five more Maryland runs to tie up the game.

The game headed to extra innings, and the Terrapins went ahead in the top of the ninth inning. The Tigers could not answer and fell 9-8 in a windy game that lasted nearly three hours.

“It was just unfortunate — some odd circumstances, some bad breaks, some pivotal calls,” Earleywine said. “And then you add on top of that that Maryland was making good contact, and it was a recipe for disaster for us.”

Baumgartner, who pitched the final two innings against Maryland, came back 30 minutes later to face Butler (6-9). In her start, Baumgartner threw the team’s first no-hitter since 2013, striking out six in the Tigers’ five-inning 8-0 rout over the Bulldogs.

“It feels great,” Baumgartner said. Touching on the suspicion baseball and softball players have of voicing a potential no-hitter before it happens, she added, “Going into that last inning, I was in the dugout and I said, ‘Nobody say it, no one say it,’ and they were, like, ‘Say what?’ And then they kinda caught on.”

Baumgartner’s pitching coupled with a revived Missouri offense provided a solid team effort against Butler.

“Usually after you lose, you do have a little bit more salt in your mouth, and you’re ready to play harder … so I’m not surprised that they were able to come back and play hard, but I am glad,” Earleywine said.

Freshman Taylor Kirby ended the game with a two-run homer; with an eight-run lead in the fifth inning, the game ended due to the mercy rule. Her home run to left field marked her second hit of the season.

“I’ve actually hit a lot of home runs,” Kirby said. “You probably wouldn’t think that from the way I’ve been hitting.” Kirby also said she has had a previous walkoff hit, but “not a big one like this.”

The Missouri softball team is now 10-8 and next in a single-game meeting with the University of Illinois on Wednesday. The matchup, which was previously not schedule, was announced by coach Earleywine on Monday, and will be played at Lindenwood University.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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