COLUMBIA — Arizona State University softball coach Clint Myers told a Phoenix reporter that Missouri is a “Cinderella team.” Players could come to the Women’s College World Series nervous and out of their league, or they could “come in with nothing to lose, go out and have fun.”
“That’s the side we worry about,” Myers was quoted as saying in the East Valley Tribune.
No. 11 Missouri (50-10)
vs. No. 12 Arizona State (46-17)
WHEN: Thursday at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Oklahoma City, Okla.
Based on what Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine has seen, he said the Sun Devils should worry.
“I can tell you from watching our team, the last thing they are is nervous or tight,” Earleywine said. “They’re out there bouncing around. They’re confident. They don’t have any fear.”
No. 11 Missouri (50-10) will face No. 12 Arizona State (46-17) at 2 p.m. Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla., the same field where it won the Big 12 Tournament title. The trip is the Tigers’ fourth appearance in the Women’s College World Series in 34 years. Missouri placed as high as fifth in a previous try, but it hasn’t been to the tournament since 1994.
This year’s team has already done what others have not. The upset of No. 2 UCLA in the Super Regional series last weekend was the Tigers’ first victory over the Bruins in 10 meetings.
If common opponents indicate anything, Missouri can find encouragement in the Sun Devils’ 9-1 and 10-4 losses to UCLA at the end of April. ASU beat UCLA 5-0 on the road earlier in the season, but couldn’t handle the Bruins’ offensive onslaught at home in Tempe, Ariz.
ASU, however, dominated North Dakota State in the Super Regional series, run-ruling the Bisons 11-0 on its way to a fourth consecutive World Series appearance. The Sun Devils scored three runs in the first inning and seven in the second on Saturday.
Missouri can’t afford to make the mistakes it did against UCLA in the second game of the series. The Tigers had three errors in the effort, and allowed three runs in the fifth inning.
“We definitely can’t give teams opportunities that are not deserved,” freshman pitcher Chelsea Thomas said.
Missouri will face Arizona State pitcher Hillary Bach, also a freshman, who has had five complete-game shutouts in six postseason starts. The freshman ace has 2.86 ERA this year.
“She’s tough to contend with, but I don’t think she’s unhittable,” Earleywine said.
Earleywine said his team has improved at hitting the riseball, a pitch that moves above the normal trajectory of a fastball. Learning to hit this pitch, he said, was critical against UCLA and will be against ASU, too.
But Earleywine said the most important thing at this stage of the season is to have fun.
“The key is staying loose, staying relaxed and staying within yourself,” he said. “The truth of the matter is you’re not going to hit any further, throw any harder or run any faster, so you just got to play the game you played all year.”
The College World Series is a double-elimination tournament with eight teams competing for the national title. If the Tigers win today, they play the winner of the Washington-Georgia game at 6 p.m. Friday. If they lose, they play the loser of that game at 11 a.m. Saturday.