COLUMBIA — After losing two games to No. 6 Texas A&M last weekend and with games against No. 12 Oklahoma scheduled to begin Saturday, it is surprising that Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine says a doubleheader against a mediocre Drake team presents his biggest challenge as a coach.
“It is hard to get them up for these mid-week games,” said Earleywine when talking about the challenges of playing non-conference opponents in the middle of the team’s Big 12 Conference schedule. “It’s really my biggest coaching challenge. We’re playing teams that, if we play well, we’ll beat, but if we don’t show up, we won’t.”
The Tigers showed up against Drake, defeating the Bulldogs 16-0 in five innings in the first game Wednesday at University Field, before winning 5-1 in the second game.
Sophomore Julie Silver, who had four hits combined in the two games, agreed it is sometimes difficult to prepare for non-conference games.
“You just got to pretend it’s just like any other team,” she said. “We just need to stay focused more. Obviously we’re not playing the Big 12 schools, we’re not seeing the Big 12 pitching, so we have to make adjustments and that’s what wins the games.”
Even easy victories that come outside of conference play, Earleywine said, can have significant postseason implications.
“It’s been a real battle for me trying to make sure they understand the importance of these games,” he said. “The reason they’re important is because, if you want to get into a regional tournament, these wins are wins that you should get. You can accumulate 40 or 45 wins, and it makes it a lot easier to get a bid to a regional tournament. Trying to get all your wins out of the Big 12 is pretty tough.”
Earleywine said he doesn’t avoid postseason talk with his team, as he discussed the need to accumulate wins Tuesday night at a meeting added. He said he thinks that teams are selected for the NCAA tournament based more on overall win-loss records than the quality of teams defeated.
Wednesday’s drubbing of Drake (14-16) could also help Missouri (33-10) defeat Oklahoma this weekend. Pitcher Stacy Delaney, who gave up four runs in only 2 2/3 innings against Texas A&M, allowed only three hits while earning the complete-game victory in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader.
“These mid-week games are great for practicing on pitches and stuff in different counts to take into the Big 12 weekend,” Delaney said.
Earleywine said the outing was just as important for Delaney’s confidence as her stuff.
“So much of this game is kids feeling like they can,” he said, “and having a good outing today hopefully will let her be able to sleep a little easier at night and walk with a little bit of a swagger and a little bit of a confidence, and hopefully she can take that into the weekend and pitch well.”
Senior pitcher Jen Bruck, who was named the Big 12 Player of the Week this week, had two hits against Drake and picked up the victory in the first game of the doubleheader. Bruck hit four home runs last week, including three against Texas A&M.