Women’s softball attempts to find groove

The top half of the first inning of No. 21 Missouri’s softball season opener against No. 15 Virginia Tech gave a strong indication of where the Tigers stand.

With runners on first and second and one out, MU executed a successful fake bunt and double-steal, moving runners to second and third. Freshman leadoff hitter Rhea Taylor, sensing a chance to score, rounded third after a bad throw. The Hokie shortstop, though, stopped the ball and tagged Taylor out near third. Missouri failed to score in the game.

MU left last weekend’s Florida International University Invitational in Miami with a 3-2 record and, maybe more importantly, a greater understanding of the team: the Tigers are talented, but they’re young and have some kinks to work out.

The Tigers split a pair of games with Virginia Tech, beat Florida International and Texas-Arlington and fell to tournament champion Pittsburgh.

Virginia Tech threw its ace, Angela Tincher, at the Tigers in both games. Missouri dropped the opener 2-0 as Tincher, who led the nation with a 0.56 ERA last year, fanned 15 Tigers, with Taylor scraping out MU’s only two hits. MU closed the tournament by downing Tincher and the Hokies 2-1 in walk-off fashion.

“Even without being a real experienced team, we were able to beat the best pitcher in the country in the first weekend,” coach Ehren Earleywine said. “That says something about our talent level.”

After falling behind 2-0 early and squandering a 4-2 lead late, Missouri defeated Florida International 6-4 behind junior transfer Lindsey Ubrun’s three-run homer. Sophomore left-hander Jana Hainey threw seven innings to notch the Tigers’ first win.

Amanda Renth clubbed her 24th career long ball in a 4-0 win over Texas-Arlington. Ubrun, Missouri’s shortstop, had two hits and sophomore left fielder Julie Silver knocked in two runs. Junior Stacy Delaney earned her first win of the year after striking out eight in a complete game.

Earleywine said the loss to Pittsburgh was the one he wanted back. The Tigers had runners on second and third with less than two outs in the fifth and seventh innings but couldn’t capitalize.

“Some of that is the fact that it’s the first weekend and the pitching is a little bit ahead of the hitting, and some of it is just inexperience in knowing how to manage your at-bat in those crucial RBI-situations,” Earleywine said.

Though Missouri didn’t manufacture runs against Pittsburgh, it also lacked offensive firepower all weekend, Earleywine said. The Tigers’ second-year coach said his team missed the presence of 2007 All-Big 12 First Team pitcher/infielder Jen Bruck.

Senior Bruck, suspended from the FIU Invitational after breaking team policy in late fall 2007, will return for this weekend’s Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas, where the Tigers face No. 10 UCLA in the opener.

“When she’s right, she’s as good as anybody in the Big 12 on the mound and arguably as good as anybody in the Big 12 at the plate,” Earleywine said.

Though Taylor’s baserunning blunder in the opener cost Missouri a key scoring opportunity, Earleywine is confident he’ll see a wiser team come late March.

“We’ll have most of it (inexperience) out of our system by the time Big 12 rolls around,” he said.

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