COLUMBIA — Playing in her first Big 12 conference game, freshman Kathryn Poet said she didn’t want to think about the bases being loaded when she stepped into the batter’s box in the top of the first inning. She only wanted to make contact.
After fouling off multiple pitches and working the count full, Poet made contact one last time and sent the ball sailing over the left field fence.
“I actually didn’t see it go out,” Poet said. “I heard the cheering and I was like, ‘Yes, I can slow down.’”
Her grand slam contributed to a seven-run first inning for the Missouri softball team on Friday at University Field. The Tigers won their first Big 12 game of the year, 9-1, in five innings over Oklahoma State.
Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said getting a big lead early was important for starting pitcher Jen Bruck.
“It’s huge because then, for your pitcher, instead of nibbling around hitters and trying to be cute, you just pound the strike zone," Earleywine said. " So, you’re approach from a pitching and catching perspective really changes at that point.”
Oklahoma State threatened to cut into Missouri’s lead in both the second and third innings, putting multiple runners on base in each inning. Bruck, though, was able force three consecutive ground balls to shortstop Abby Vock and escape the second inning with just one run scoring, and she induced a 1-2-3 double play to squelch the Cowgirls’ rally in the third.
“I was really proud of the way we stayed composed there,” Earleywine said of Bruck. “She made quality pitches and got us out of two or three jams. I think that’s why we were able to finish it off in the fifth.”
While Poet said she wasn’t nervous before the game, a few of her classmates were.
“A few of the freshmen actually expressed some nerves before the game,” she said, “and a few of the returning players we’re just like, ‘You’ve just got to approach it like another game. If you come out here nervous and stuff you’re going to end up not playing your best. That’s what we did, and we came out on top.
“I think it’s a good confidence booster for what’s to come for us,” she added, “and hopefully we can keep it going tomorrow.”
Earleywine said he planned to meet with the team Friday night to discuss Saturday’s game against Oklamhoma State. Last year, he said, the Tigers often got complacent after winning the first game of a conference series.
“I think that’s going to be the key to us having a chance to win the Big 12 again this year is finishing as strong in game two as we did in game one,” he said. “That’s not an ability thing, that’s a effort thing, that’s an attitude thing.”
Saturday’s series finale with the Cowgirls will begin at 1 p.m. at University Field.