Story by Barbara Maningat
Photos by Kelsie Heneghan
For Missouri softball, the run-rule win over Western Illinois was a step in the right direction as they turn heads to the weekend series against Big 12 rival Oklahoma – but Tigers are not satisfied with the way they’ve been playing.
Despite the shutout victory, the Tigers recorded eight runs on only five hits in the game.
“I think that we’re not exactly where we want to be. But we’re getting closer and we’re working through it. If I know anything about this team, is we’re just going to battle through it until we find it,” Nicole Hudson said.
Hitting has been a major concern for the Tiger offense in recent games and the frustration continued for coach Ehren Earleywine with the low hit count against WIU.
“I wasn’t very pleased today with our hitting as well,” Earleywine said. “I mean for the first four, five innings we were getting no hit by Western Illinois. So it wasn’t great.”
The Tigers drew five walks in the first two innings, leaving five runners on base and brought in four unearned runs in the third inning. In the bottom of the third, Jenna Marston drew a walk, and then advanced when Ashley Fleming was hit by a pitch. Mackenzie Sykes later reached on a fielder’s choice by WIU’s shortstop KC Dunne and a throwing error on the play loaded the bases. Kelsea Roth then hit a sacrifice fly to right field that allowed Marston to score for the first run of the game. In the next play, Sykes stole second, allowing Fleming to steal home on the throw to second to make it a 2-0 Tiger lead. Angela Randazzo then walked to put runners on first and second. Rachel Hay reached third base on a fielding error by right fielder Monica Rondon that brought in two more Tiger runs.
Earleywine’s concern – Missouri didn’t record a hit until the fifth inning with a double to right field by Nicole Hudson and a one-run single by pinch hitter Kayla Kingsley. He said Missouri is close to finding key players who can act as game changers for the team.
“Just like this game, it was really quiet, and then all of a sudden, ‘Bang!’ Nicole Hudson hits a three-run home run and all of a sudden it looks like you had a great offensive day because of one swing,” Earleywine said.
To put base runners on for Hudson in the sixth inning, Corrin Genovese began with an infield single. Pinch hitter Lindsay Muller then reached on a fielder’s choice and advanced to second with a solid single by Fleming to center field. Hudson went 2-for-3 with two runs and three RBIs.
“Last Saturday I felt like I had made a couple adjustments and started to get a feel for it and a little more comfortable,” Hudson said. “And I feel like I’m right where I want to be now and I’m ready to hit off (Oklahoma ace Keilani Ricketts).”
Oklahoma seemed to overshadow the midweek WIU game as the Tigers admitted much of their attention has been focused on the upcoming conference matchup. Such excitement is amplified by the longstanding rivalry between the Tigers and Sooners.
“They’re just good. There’s no other reason. And it’s out of respect, of course, but we feel like our two programs are the two best programs in the conference,” Earleywine said. “We haven’t shown that consistently this year, but you know it’s just a bragging thing toward Oklahoma. That’s who we’re trying to compete with.”
Missouri sits at No. 3 in Big 12 standings with an 11-5 conference record; Oklahoma tops the chart at No. 1 with an 11-4 record.
“Regardless of where they are in the standings and where we are, that’s our rivalry in the Big 12, and we are absolutely going to bring it. That’s what it’s all about. It’s going to be a great weekend,” Hudson said.
The three-game series begins Friday at 7 p.m. in Norman, Okla.