COLUMBIA — If recent Missouri graduate Andee Allen didn’t have softball, she doesn’t know what she would do with herself.
“I don’t have to worry about homework,” she said. “Ever.”
No. 11 Missouri (48-9)
vs. No. 2 UCLA (44-9)
WHEN: Game 1, Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
Game 2, Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Game 3 (if needed), Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Los Angeles
With classes over, Allen and the other members of the No. 11 ranked Missouri softball team can focus on how to beat No. 2 UCLA in a best-of-three NCAA Super Regional series this weekend in Los Angeles. A win over DePaul on Sunday put the Tigers (48-9) in what is essentially the Sweet 16 of college softball. The winner of the matchup this weekend will advance to the NCAA College World Series of Softball.
“We’re very excited to be at this point,” Allen said. “It’s a huge opportunity for us, the university, everybody. We know we can do this.”
Part of Missouri’s confidence comes from the team’s last meeting with UCLA. In March the Tigers were in position to win until the Bruins scored on a passed ball in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“All throughout we had them beat,” freshman pitcher Chelsea Thomas said. “We are ready to face them again.”
Thomas said she and other players feel a sense of “unfinished business” when it comes to the Bruins. She said she imagines UCLA might underestimate her team, but the Tigers are prepared.
“We know what they have,” Thomas said. “We’ve seen one of their pitchers, and I know they have a couple good hitters.”
UCLA sophomore Katie Schroeder is one of them. Schroeder leads the Bruins with 14 home runs, 67 hits and a .409 batting average. The team has seven players batting above .300.
In Missouri’s loss to UCLA in the San Diego Classic this year, Thomas limited the Bruins to three hits. Thomas, who sat out for nearly a month with bicep tendonitis, has had seven strong starts since she returned in mid-April. Thomas has an 1.07 ERA this season, putting her at No. 10 among the nation’s pitchers.
“With Chelsea back and healthy, we’re even better,” senior Micaela Minner said. “She’s good enough and she can take us to the World Series.”
Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine is equally confident in his ace pitcher. His biggest concern is Missouri’s batting. He said he has been studying UCLA’s junior pitcher Megan Langenfeld with a 0.99 ERA and a 16-1 record.
“We need to tweak some things to be able to hit the rise ball this weekend,” Earleywine said. Batting practice leading up to the game has focused on mechanical adjustments, such as flattening the bat, in order to hit the pitch that deceives batters by moving above the normal trajectory of a fastball.
Missouri scheduled two practices in Columbia and one in Los Angeles before Saturday’s game. The team traveled on Thursday to allow enough time to adjust and prepare for the super regional. Earleywine, who is the first coach to lead Missouri to back-to-back regional titles, said the focus is much different this year.
“Last year we were thankful to reach a new milestone,” Earleywine said of making it to a super regional in 2008. The Tigers were shut down by Alabama in two games. “Now we’re going there to win and reach the next level.”
Missouri players said they will be able to completely focus on reaching their team goals now that finals are over. Andee Allen, in the meantime, will be looking for something to do between practice and games.
“I was thinking about it the other day,” Allen said. “Maybe I’ll read a book.”