When Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine talks about a team that hits a lot of home runs, features one of the nation’s best base stealers in an offense that runs a lot and manages to pitch well, too, he is usually talking about his own Missouri Tigers.
Not this week.
This week Earleywine was talking about Alabama, the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, which the Tigers will face today in the first game of a best-of-three series at 6:30 p.m. in the Super Regional round of the tournament at the Alabama Softball Complex in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
As the Missouri program enters its first Super Regional series, Earleywine acknowledged there will be no clash of styles on the field.
“They’re very similar to us,” he said. “Their numbers are slightly higher in all categories, but they’re very aggressive on offense, they also have power and they pitch well. It’s kind of like a mirror of us in many ways, but statistically they do everything just a little bit better than us.”
Although both teams rank in the top 15 nationally in home run totals, the Crimson Tide has 74 to Missouri’s 65. And while Missouri has the second most stolen bases of any team in the nation with 139, Alabama is well out in front with 155.
The Tigers’ players, however, stand out. Missouri’s Rhea Taylor has 57 stolen bases to lead the nation while Alabama’s Brittany Rogers is second with 55. Amanda Renth’s 20 home runs also puts her ahead of everyone on Alabama’s roster.
Renth, Missouri’s humble and meticulous senior first baseman, broke Missouri’s single season home run record this year, an impressive feat made more remarkable because Renth had her nose broken early in the season when a foul ball struck her as she waited on deck. The record took the sting out of the injury.
“It feels great. I never would have expected it, so it’s a great feeling,” Renth said after breaking the record.
Earleywine marveled at the end of the regular season at Renth’s ability to recover from both an early season slump and surgery on her nose to compile a .335 average and a team-high 60
RBI, crediting her “scientific approach” to the game, which allows her to focus on mechanical corrections rather than negative emotion.
He might have been more right than he knew. Renth is a semester away from a degree in biomedical engineering and will dual enroll in graduate school to begin her master’s research in the field, which in part develops surgical implants such as replacement knees and hips.
“For me I like the math and science in engineering, but I also like to work with people,” Renth said about her chosen professional field.
For now, though, Renth will continue to lead Missouri on the softball field.
“I think she’s somebody to learn from,” second baseman Andee Allen said. “I think she’s had an outstanding approach to the game. She’s a smart player, She’s been a great leader for us this year I feel both on the field and in the batter’s box.”
It was Renth’s 2-run double that gave Missouri a chance to defeat Iowa in extra innings in the first game of last weekend’s NCAA Regional, something pitcher Stacy Delaney said the team needs to do again against Alabama.
“It definitely helped that we had won that first game because on the road we haven’t won that first game against big teams, so it was definitely a confidence booster,” she said. “I think if we win that first game we really have a shot this weekend.”
Delaney, who earned two victories and a save in Missouri three regional wins, has been to Super Regionals the past two seasons as a member of the Michigan softball team, but did not pitch.
“It’s definitely more exciting. You definitely feel a part of it,” she said of this season’s run with the Tigers. “It’s something that I’ve never experienced. Last weekend was just absolutely amazing. It’s funny because people say, ‘Oh, you’ve been here before,’ but it’s not to the degree as what I’ve been there before.”
Delaney never got a chance to participate in the College World Series, however, the place the unseeded Tigers are trying to reach this weekend.
“I think we have a little bit more confidence now than what we did going in (to regionals), especially with how the Big 12 tournament went for us,” said Renth, referring to the team’s loss in its first game of the conference tournament.
Allen said avoiding giving up big scoring innings to Alabama’s offense was the most important thing her team needs to do to be one of the last eight teams playing softball this season.
“I think maintaining that attitude we had over the weekend and knowing that we will score or we can score, getting a couple runs on the board and holding them. I think that’s going to be really big for us on defense, keeping them to only one run, no runs — hopefully low run totals,” she said.
Earleywine, who joked that his team’s habit of falling behind early in games, as it twice in the regional round, was adding gray hairs to his head, said his team would need to play near perfect softball to defeat Alabama, which has advanced to four of the past eight College World Series.
“We feel like if we go down there and play hard anything can happen, and that’s proven time and time again in sports,” he said. “We’re not going to go down there with the mentality that we’re happy to be here, we’re going down there with the mentality to win two games.”