COLUMBIA — The Missouri softball team has something standing in its way of a trip to the NCAA College World Series.
That something is a big problem. The Tigers must get past the UCLA Bruins (44-9), who have won a NCAA record 11 national softball titles.
The 11th-ranked Missouri softball team will travel to Los Angeles for a best-of-three NCAA Super Regional series against No. 2 UCLA.
Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Game 3 (if necessary)
Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
All three games will be
televised live on ESPNU.
Missouri and UCLA have met 10 times since 1979. The Bruins hold a 10-0 advantage over the Tigers, including a 2-1 win earlier this season.
After winning their NCAA regional by beating DePaul 1-0 on Sunday at University Field, the No. 11 ranked Tigers (48-9) were awarded the task of playing the No. 2 ranked Bruins. The two teams will play a best-of-three series NCAA Super Regional in Los Angeles starting Saturday, with the winner advancing to the College World Series in Oklahoma City from May 28 to June 3.
History says the Bruins should easily move past the Tigers on their way to yet another World Series appearance. After all, the Bruins have played the Tigers 10 times, beating the Tigers every time. But as most people who follow Missouri athletics already know, these are different times in Tiger country.
Recent success by Missouri teams, most notably the football and men’s basketball teams, has given Missouri fans the hope that bigger things are around the corner. However, until people see the championships, Missouri won’t get the respect that teams such as UCLA have earned. UCLA's athletic programs have won 103 NCAA team national championships, the most of any program in the country.
Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine, who grew up in Jefferson City, has been a Missouri fan his entire life. He knows the disappointment fans go through when highly regarded teams don’t live up to expectations.
“I feel like we’ve let them down too many times,” Earleywine said. “I want to give the fans something they can be proud of.”
The Tigers softball team has taken the first step in changing the mentality of Missouri fans in the postseason.
This Tigers team has the confidence that many of the teams before them lacked. One of the biggest contributors on this year’s team, pitcher Chelsea Thomas, is the biggest key for the Tigers against the Bruins. In March, the Tigers lost 2-1 to the Bruins. In the bottom of the seventh of that game, a passed ball by Thomas allowed the winning run to score.
“We’re going to win. That’s not going to happen this time,” Thomas said.
After the loss to UCLA in March, Earleywine told reporters he was pleased with the way Thomas had performed.
“It was clear that Chelsea was the best player on both teams,” Earleywine said in March. “You could tell by UCLA’s mannerisms that they knew that they had locked up with something a little bit bigger than themselves.”
The Tigers say this year will be different than their super regional performance last season, where they lost two straight games to Alabama. And it’s not only because they have Thomas in the circle this season.
“This year’s something’s different,” senior Micaela Minner said. “I think it’s our togetherness, our cohesiveness. We trust each other.”
After Sunday’s victory, Minner, who is in her sixth year at Missouri, said previous Missouri teams had the talent, but not the type of trust this year's team has in each other. She stressed that everybody is in it together and that there aren’t any “cliques” on this year’s team. Everybody is on one mission — win and advance.
The Tigers will need that “togetherness” to knock off one of the most accomplished athletic programs in the nation. This Tigers team has the confidence that they will avenge that loss in March.
“It’s going to be a good series, I can tell you that,” catcher Megan Christopher said smiling.