At the beginning of the season, MU head softball coach Ehren Earleywine scheduled the Tigers to play top-ranked teams because he felt the team was ready for a tougher schedule.
After this weekend, it seems that he was right.
On Saturday, Missouri improved its record to 7-2 when they defeated No. 20 Louisiana-Lafayette 11-6 and No. 24 Massachusetts 2-1 in the 2010 Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga. The Tigers are now 6-2 this year against opponents ranked in the top 25 in the ESPN/USA Softball Division I poll.
"I am so proud of our team for the way they have played against these tough opponents," Earleywine said by phone. "At the beginning of the season, I knew we would be competitive against these teams, and that we would play them close. We have been able to win the games that were decided by one run against top teams like Michigan, and that is going to be very important come playoff time."
In the first game against Louisiana-Lafayette, Chelsea Thomas did not pitch one of her best games. She pitched seven innings giving up six runs and thirteen hits which included three home runs. Thomas stuck out eight batters and did not walk any.
The Tiger's offense was able to help Thomas get the victory scoring 11 runs on 10 hits. The Tigers went into the fifth inning trailing 4-2. With the bases loaded and two out Rhea Taylor, who is known more for her speed rather than her power, hit a line drive grand slam over the right field wall to put the Tigers ahead 7-4. The Tigers later scored three runs in the sixth and one run in the seventh inning to put the game out of reach for Louisiana-Lafayette.
Outfielder Shana White did not start start a game this season until the game against Virgina Tech where she went 2-for-4 and scored a run. Earleywine said White improved in her hitting in practices prior to the tournament, which prompted him to start her in Saturday's games.
"I just saw that look of determination in her eye," Earleywine said. "She wasn't just going through the motions she worked hard and seized the opportunity."
Starting White on Saturday ended up working out for the Tigers. She reached base in all four plate appearances and scored three runs.
In game two against Massachusetts, the Tigers went into the fifth inning with only 2 hits and they trailed 1-0. White lead off the inning with base hit to left field and used her speed to stretch a single into a double. With runners at third and second with one out shortstop Jenna Marston grounded out to third which scored White tieing the game at 1-1. Third baseman Nicole Hudson would single in the next at bat scoring second baseman Abby Vock from third to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
MU pitcher Jana Hainey got her first win of the year in relief of Kristin Nottelmann. She pitched three innings and gave up one hit and one walk in the victory.
Despite the Tigers winning both games Saturday, Earleywine said the team still has plenty of work to do. The team had trouble hitting the rise ball against both Louisiana-Lafayette and Massachusetts, and it is something Earleywine said he is sure to address.
"Ninety-five percent of pitchers in the league throw the rise ball," Earleywine said. "They just kept swinging under it, and they will have to learn to hit it if we are to do good in the playoffs."
The Tigers will try to win their sixth game in a row on Sunday when they play Radford at 9 a.m. in its final game of the 2010 Leadoff Classic.