COLUMBIA — The Missouri softball team is starting to make beating ranked opponents look a little too easy, even for its coach to believe.
The Tigers defeated No. 24 Southern Illinois 9-1 in five innings Wednesday at University Field. It was the third consecutive game Missouri has run-ruled a ranked opponent after sweeping then-No. 19 Texas A&M over the weekend.
“For us to be able to do this it’s just, it’s rare to do that against a team like (SIU) and then last weekend against A&M," Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. "I don’t know if it’s just coincidence or if we’re really playing that well, but it seems like we’re playing pretty good softball right now.”
Since a disappointing loss to Kansas in game two of a doubleheader last Wednesday that Missouri felt was due to a lack of intensity, Missouri (34-5, 6-2 in the Big 12) has outscored opponents 26-2 and has moved into the top 10 nationally for the first time since 1998.
"It’s the first time this program’s been there in a long time," Earleywine said of the team's No. 10 ranking. "I don’t know how long, but that is our goal to be a top 10 team every year, and so now we’ve arrived there. Now we’ve just got to stay there.”
Senior Stacy Delaney (9-2) was dominant in the circle. She struck out nine of the 12 batters she faced in four shutout innings and gave up just one hit. Delaney has 88 strikeouts in 81 innings.
"I really didn't feel as good as I normally have in the past couple weeks," said Delaney, who said she struggled to find the strike zone while warming up. "So that's encouraging to know I can still throw and still beat people when I don't have my best stuff."
Marla Schweisberger was a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate for Missouri and had one of the Tigers' three home runs Wednesday.
Schweisberger had just two hits in 10 at-bats as a freshman but has earned the starting spot at first base this year. Schweisberger has appeared in 32 games this season and is batting .436 with 34 RBIs, the second most on the team.
“I think honestly it’s just confidence," Schweisberger said about her dramatic improvement. "The opportunities that I had I did well, and I think just gaining confidence. Being in our lineup, anybody can get the job done, and it just makes me feel really comfortable to be batting in a lineup with such good hitters.”
Her contribution has been a surprise to Earleywine, but he views it as sign of progress for his program.
“Not only did I not have her penciled in at first base, but she was one of about five people that was going to be fighting for just playing time, whether it be designated player or left field or whatever," Earleywine said. "Now she’s hitting three hole and just wearing everybody out. ... Those are the types of things that are signs of a program that is really starting to develop. When you can bring a kid that you didn’t suspect to play, not only into your lineup but to hit .420 or .430, that speaks volumes about the types of recruits we’re getting in here. I think it’s only going to continue to be like that in the future."
Schweisberger said the new top 10 ranking was a nice goal to check off the list that includes a desired trip to the College World Series.
“It’s what we’ve been working for since coach Earleywine’s been here for three years," Schweisberger said. "Talking to some older girls, those goals may not have been there before, but it’s really nice to have those goals now and be able to really believe that you can achieve them.
“I think when we play our best we can do that to teams," Schweisberger continued, talking about the blowout victory over SIU. "It’s kind of what we expect now.”
Missouri will travel to Oklahoma State this weekend. The Tigers will face the Cowgirls at 5:30 p.m. Friday and again at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Saturday's game will be televised on Fox Sports Net.