COLUMBIA — Rhea Taylor doesn’t try to hit the ball out of the infield. She doesn’t need to.
The MU softball team’s lead-off hitter is fast, so fast that she can reach first base even if she accidentally bunts ball too far down the third base line or slaps a pitch right back to the woman who threw it.
Perhaps that’s why she summed up her approach in the batter’s box by saying, “hit it to the left side of the field.”
The freshman centerfielder executed her plan to perfection Friday night at Dan Devine Pavilion as her team defeated South Dakota State and Boston University in the Tiger Invitational. She hit seven singles in seven at-bats without ever hitting ball into the outfield.
MU coach Ehren Earlywhine said that although Taylor is capable of hitting for power at some point in her college career, he prefers she keep the ball on the ground for now.
“We figure we’re going to introduce her swing either late this year or for sure in her sophomore season. I suspect by her sophomore year she’ll be a three-tool batter with bunt, slap and hit for power,” she said.
Taylor also displayed her speed on the bases. In her team’s 8-3 victory over South Dakota State she stole three bases and then swiped another four in a 3-0 defeat of Boston University. She has now stolen 20 bases in 18 games this season while being thrown out only once.
“It seems like every time she goes out she gets better, and that stands reason (because) she’s a freshman,” said Earleywine. “I think she’s finally starting to get into a groove, but it’s going to be real interesting to see how far she can take it in this game.”
Junior Stacy Delaney, who pitched a complete game shutout against Boston University, said that facing hitters like Taylor can get under the skin of a pitcher.
“You just try not to let them hit the ball,” she said, “but Rhea was hot tonight, so sometimes you just can’t do it.”
Earleywine said the Taylor could wind up being one of the best players he has coached.
“I’ve had players who do the same type of short game, the slap and the bunt,” he said, “but I don’t think I’ve ever had one who’s going to be as good as she is at it.”
Taylor, though, isn’t thinking about future home runs or annoying opposing pitchers.
“Get on base,” she said, “that’s the only thing I’m thinking about is get on base.”
The Tigers will return to the field at 1 p.m. Saturday to play another doubleheader against South Dakota State and Boston University. The team, though, has yet to announce where the game will be played. Cold temperatures and a water-logged field have made play outdoors at University Field impossible so far this season.
However, if the field conditions do not improve enough to host tomorrow’s actions, it is possible the games could be played in Memorial Stadium rather than inside the Dan Devine Pavilion.