COLUMBIA — Placed in a NCAA regional with neither a clear-cut favorite nor an overmatched hopeful, the Missouri softball team realizes the opportunity it will have when play begins today in Iowa City, Iowa.
“We definitely have a fighting chance at winning this regional,” MU left fielder Jule Silver said. “We don’t have a top five, top 10 team in it, but yet every team in this regional has depth, so we definitely think we can win this.”
NCAA Softball RegionalGame 1: No. 4 Creighton (43-15) vs. No. 1 Long Beach St. (39-15), 6 p.m. Game 2 :No. 3 Iowa (40-18) vs. No. 2 Missouri (44-15), 7:30 p.m. WHEN: 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: WHERE: Bob Pearl Field, Iowa City, Iowa
The Tigers (44-15) are one of three teams in the regional to pass the 40-win mark, with the only exception being top-seeded Long Beach State, which is 39-15 this season. Creighton (43-15) and host Iowa (40-18) round out the field.
“It’s not single elimination, but I feel like if you play every game like it’s do or die, and that you don’t accept a loss, it’s better off for you,” MU pitcher Jen Bruck said. “I think if we can go into regionals, go undefeated and get into that championship game without a loss it’s a really good plus for us because we’re a strong enough team to not let somebody beat us twice.”
Bruck noted Missouri’s loss to Drake in its second regional game last season, forcing the Tigers to beat the Bulldogs twice in order to advance, a task Missouri could not accomplish.
Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said an early loss in this year’s regional could mean another quick end to the season.
“The loser’s bracket is the scariest part of this tournament. I think staying in the winner’s bracket would be nice because I don’t think there is a loser’s bracket in this tournament,” he said, referring to the balanced field. “It’s just really hard to identify who’s who.”
The consensus among the team was that its defensive performance will determine how far it advances. Missouri has struggled all year with consistency in the field, a problem that played a big factor in their loss to Texas Tech in the opening round of the Big 12 Conference tournament last weekend.
“My concern and your hope that I talked to them about yesterday after practice is that, OK, we make mistakes. We make freshmen mistakes. We make newcomer mistakes whatever, but the question is: Do we make them two, three, four times, or do we just make them once?” Earleywine said. “And that’s the question that has to be answered.”
Bruck said she planned to be a more vocal leader this weekend should the defense begin to struggle and make a string of mistakes like the the defense sequence that led to a three-run inning for Texas Tech.
“I think it’s a combination of communication and relaxation,” Bruck said. “I think when we are under pressure, we’re young, so people tense up, they don’t breathe, and I think it’s a job for me as a pitcher, and as a senior, to keep them calm, especially if I’m in the circle.”
The senior attributed the shift in her approach to her desire to prolong her career.
“This is the last time I’m ever going to play softball,” Bruck said. “So I think a lot of people are going to see a different side to me because I hate losing, and I don’t want it to be the end yet.”
Earleywine said there were no quick fixes this time of the year.
“The bottom line is there’s not a lot you can do in two days. We’re 60 games in, if we haven’t fixed it by now, there’s probably not a lot you’re going to do about it,” he said.
MORE HONORS FOR THE TIGERS: Five Missouri softball players were named to the All-Midwest Region team on Thursday. Senior Amanda Renth, junior Andee Allen and freshman Rhea Taylor were named to the first team, while junior pitcher Stacy Delaney and Bruck were named to the second team. Missouri tied No. 7 Oklahoma for the most representatives on the 25-women team.