Story by Sam Richmond
Video by Sam Hustis
The No. 16 Missouri softball team suffered two heartbreaking defeats at the hands of the No. 9 Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday at University Field.
The Tigers dropped game one, 3-2, and fell 8-7 after eight innings in game two, giving the weekend series victory to Kentucky.
Game one saw Missouri strike first, with both infielder Angela Randazzo and outfielder Mackenzie Sykes plating a run in the first inning. But Wildcat pitcher Kelsey Nunley shut down an explosive Missouri offense the rest of the way.
Tiger freshman pitcher Casey Stangel went toe-for-toe with Nunley for much of the game, before ultimately giving up a game-winning solo home run in the seventh inning to the Wildcats’ Lauren Cumbess. Stangel finished the game with three earned runs and five hits surrendered in seven innings. She now has a 2.32 ERA this season.
Missouri nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback in the series finale after its other freshman ace, Tori Finucane, had a rough outing and put the Tigers in a deep hole. She allowed seven runs in seven innings, bumping up her season ERA from 1.41 to 2.47.
Finucane’s second home run allowed on Saturday was a three-run shot by Kentucky’s Nikki Sagerman in the sixth inning that pushed the Wildcats’ lead to 7-2.
But the Tigers put up three runs in the sixth inning, and tied the game in the seventh inning thanks to the first career home run from catcher Carlie Rose.
“I was so excited for her,” Randazzo said of the home run. “ She deserves it. She’s a hard worker and a really good hitter.”
The excitement for the Tigers proved to be short lived, however, as it wouldn’t take long for the Wildcats to regain the lead in extra innings. Stangel relieved Finucane and gave up a leadoff triple in the eighth inning to Kentucky’s Sylver Samuel. The Wildcat outfielder scored the winning run on an Ansley Smith groundout one play later.
While coach Ehren Earleywine said he was disappointed with the losses Saturday, he was pleased the way the team fought back in game two.
“It’s an indicator that you don’t have a lot of give up,” Earleywine said. “If you have give up, you might as well pack it in: your season’s over. We don’t have that.”
The losses dropped the Tigers to 16-7 (2-4 in the Southeastern Conference) for the season. Missouri has now lost six one-run games in 2014.
Although Earlywine said there’s a positive takeaway from the close losses, he also said the Tigers are making too many small mistakes in each facet of the game.
“They shouldn’t be one-run games,” he said. “If we play fundamentally sound softball today I think we win by three or four runs.”
The Tigers next chance for redemption is Wednesday, March 18 when they host Illinois State for a doubleheader at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.