Too much drama for Missouri softball in Murray State doubleheader

Story by Alex Silverman

Photos by Barbara Maningat

To say the No. 9 Missouri softball team had a flair for the dramatic in its doubleheader against Murray State on Wednesday would be an understatement.  Both games were decided in the final inning and with the same protagonist, outfielder Ashley Fleming, at the plate.

Unfortunately for Fleming and the Tigers, only one of the two games had the storybook ending they needed.  Missouri split the series with Murray State, winning the first game 5-4 and losing the second 3-2.  Murray State’s victory in the second game was its first in program history against a ranked team.  For coach Ehren Earleywine, the results of both games, particularly considering the “mid-tier” opponent, were immensely disappointing.

“It’s an embarrassing day in MU softball history and I hope that we don’t play like this anymore,” Earleywine said.

Through the first five innings of game one, it seemed the Tigers would control the day.  They entered the sixth inning with a 4-0 lead.  Things went haywire, however, when Fleming trotted out to the mound for her first pitching appearance of the season and just the sixth of her college career.

Earleywine said he chose to have Fleming pitch because starter Bailey Erwin had lost her velocity and the team’s ace, Chelsea Thomas, was sidelined with a “tweaked groin.”

Just five Murray State batters and one out after Fleming stepped into the circle, the bases were loaded.

Erwin, the pitcher she had just replaced, reentered the game to try to clean up Fleming’s mess.  Instead, Erwin threw the fourth ball of what was previously Fleming’s 3-0 count, bringing in one run, and then allowed a bases-clearing double, bringing in another three and tying the game, 4-4.

With three earned runs and a blown lead on her shoulders, Fleming stepped up to the plate in the top of the seventh and, with the count at 2-1, sent Shelby Kosmecki’s pitch soaring over the wall in right centerfield.  Fleming’s home run proved to be the game-winner, but wasn’t vindication in Fleming’s eyes.

“For me to be in the position to hit a home run that ends up beating them by one run, that’s obviously not what we want to do,” Fleming said.  “We should definitely be scoring more runs and be beating a team like that by more.”

Things would only get worse for both Fleming and her team in game two.  The Tigers’ offense sputtered, producing only two hits through the game’s first six innings.  The Racers, on the other hand, pummeled starting pitcher Kristin Nottelmann in a three-run, four-hit third inning.  Missouri entered the bottom of the seventh inning down 3-0, needing more late game heroics.

For a moment, it seemed as though Missouri might be able to pull off another victory in dramatic fashion.  With two singles and a walk, the Tigers quickly loaded the bases and catcher Rachel Hay hit an RBI double to bring in two runs.

Two outs later, with Missouri trailing 3-2 and the bases loaded once again, Fleming came to the plate with the chance to write a storybook ending for the second consecutive game.  Instead, Fleming popped up Chelsey Sullivan’s 3-1 pitch, sealing the Tiger’s fate.

“I obviously was in a great count and it was a good pitch and I just let it get too deep,” Fleming said.  “I should’ve gotten out in front a little bit more, but it happens.”

With a sour taste in their mouths, the Tigers travel to face No. 13 Oregon this weekend in a three-game series.

“I hate the West Coast so it’s not a good time at all for me to go to Oregon,” Earleywine said.  “If we could beat them two out of three games and play well, that would make me feel a lot better, because today was so depressing on so many different levels.”

Information from Missouri Athletics and Murray State Athletics was used in this report.

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