OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — The Missouri softball team was supposed to get an easy victory against Texas Tech. Instead, it got a hard lesson.
“It’s unfortunate because the way it usually works out for all of us in life is that we have to learn lessons the hard way,” said MU coach Ehren Earleywine. “I tell them a thousand times in practice these same things, and I think sometimes it takes getting burned and being embarrassed in a venue like this before you really learn your lesson.”
The lessons to learn seem simple. Get timely hits. Don’t overcharge bunts. It is not acceptable for the game-tying runner to get in a rundown instead of sliding around a tag from the opposing shortstop.
Earleywine said he hoped his team was educated in all these things after falling 5-3 to the Red Raiders Saturday in the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City.
The Tigers stranded nine runners in the game, including six in the first three innings.
“We had plenty of chances throughout the game, we didn’t execute and that’s what killed us,” said pitcher Jen Bruck. “You’ve got to be aggressive on the bases, and we didn’t do that. When we did have runners in scoring position, we didn’t knock them in.”
Some might argue that the Tigers were too aggressive on the bases in the bottom of the seventh inning. After pinch running for Andee Allen, Earleywine sent Shana White, who represented the tying run, to second base in a steal attempt.
The throw to second from Texas Tech catcher Robyn Wike was high and well right of second base, leading her shortstop to catch the ball directly in White’s path. White made an attempt to avoid the tag by heading back to first but was quickly tagged out for the game’s final out.
Earleywine, who said he thought White should have attempted to slide under the high tag, did not regret his decision.
“I’ve been a risky coach my whole career, and I’m never going to stop that,” he said. “I figure with a kid that runs as well as Shana against a catcher who has a 19 percent throw-out ratio, I’m going to take my chances instead of sitting around waiting on two hits back-to-back. It’s just not my style.”
Jen Bruck pitched all seven innings for the Tigers. Although all five runs she gave up were earned, Texas Tech’s three fifth-inning runs were scored with the help of three infield singles, two of which came when the Red Raiders attempted to sacrifice bunt.
“That’s extremely frustrating as a pitcher, to know that they’re not hitting you hard, and we’re still not making the plays,” Bruck said. “I just felt like they were sticking their bats out there, that’s basically what they did, stuck the bat out there and got on base. It’s just really frustrating because I know we’re better defensively than that.”
The Tigers weren’t the only favorite to fall on Saturday. No. 7 Oklahoma, who figured to be Missouri semi-final opponent, was defeated by Nebraska. The bottom-seeded Cornhuskers, who beat Texas Tech in the tournament’s first semifinal will face Texas A&M at noon today in the championship game.
Missouri’s next game will almost certainly be in the regional round of the NCAA tournament. The Tigers, who finished the regular season third in the Big 12, are expected to receive an at-large bid to the tournament when the field is released tonight. ESPNU will broadcast a selection show at 9 p.m.
Although Saturday’s loss was disappointing for his team, Earleywine said it was an example of the hard lessons he said the team had learned.
“That’s the way I learned most of my lessons so I don’t see why it’s be any different for these kids,” he said.