Missouri softball team motivated for NCAA regional

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Missouri starting pitcher Stacy Delaney delivers against Baylor Saturday in the semifinals of the Big 12 Conference softball tournament in Oklahoma City.

COLUMBIA — Looking for extra motivation is something most coaches do in the postseason. Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine does not have to look far.

Despite being an NCAA Regional host this weekend, the Tigers (45-9) were slapped with a No. 2 seed behind DePaul (37-12). The Tigers are coming off a convincing Big 12 Conference tournament run, beating Oklahoma 5-0 in the championship game. Meanwhile, the Blue Demons are coming off a loss against Notre Dame in the Big East tournament.

Friday’s game

NCAA Tournament Regional
First Round
Missouri (45-9)
vs. Illinois (29-15)
When: 5 p.m.
Where: University Field

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“Us being a two seed is funny,” Earleywine said. “We’ve been in the top 15 the entire year, we win the conference tournament, win three straight in Oklahoma City, and somehow we drop out of the top 15. But that’s a little motivation for us heading into the weekend.”

Looking closer, Tigers senior pitcher Stacy Delaney also has a bit of personal motivation heading into the weekend. 

Delaney pitched at Michigan in 2006-07, where the Wolverines won back-to-back regional championships. However, at the end of her sophomore season, the Michigan coaches told Delaney she wasn’t good enough to pitch against Big Ten teams. Soon after hearing that, Delaney left her home state for Missouri.

Now the Tigers are set to face No. 3 seed Illinois (29-15), a member of the Big Ten, at 5 p.m. Friday at University Field.

“I can assure you, not only can she beat Big Ten teams, but she can beat anybody,” Earleywine said.

Delaney, a first team All-Big 12 selection this season, said she feels like she has proved herself at a high level since her departure.

“As much as I was upset, I don’t have anything else to prove,” Delaney said. “But it’s always nice to reinforce that.”

Delaney proved some of those doubters wrong at last season’s regional, beating Big Ten school Iowa twice to send the Tigers to the super regionals.

“It was kind of a sign of relief,” Delaney said about the two wins against the Hawkeyes “I proved to myself and everyone I could do it.”

Teammate and freshman pitcher Chelsea Thomas enjoys watching Delaney succeed, especially since the Wolverines coaches didn’t think she could.

“She’s showing everyone she has that ability. I think that’s great that she can say ‘hey, you lost something,'” Thomas said. “She’s making something of herself right now.”

However, Delaney said she is unsure if she will get a chance to pitch against Illinois on Friday. Delaney said Earleywine will probably wait until Friday morning to name his starter.

“I would love to pitch against Illinois,” Delaney said. “We can’t look past anybody.”

If the Tigers do get past Illinois and get a shot at the Blue Demons, the Tigers have a little payback to give. In 2007, the Tigers lost the regional championship against the Blue Demons in Carbondale, Ill.

The Tigers' biggest motivation in their quest to repeat as regional champions, however, could be playing at home. 

“We’re glad to be home. I wouldn’t trade that for anything,” Earleywine said “We have the opportunity to be near family and friends to possibly win this tournament in front of our fans.”

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