COLUMBIA — There was something noticeably different about the Missouri softball team's starting lineup going into a game against UMKC on Sunday.
Freshman Rachel Hay got her first start at catcher, third start overall, and junior Lisa Simmons got her first start in left field. They both hit and fielded like they have been starters all season. Hay and Simmons combined to go 3-for-6 and scored two runs to help Missouri (13-2) to its 10th-straight victory, a 9-3 victory against UMKC in the Missouri Breast Cancer Awareness Tournament.
Since the Tigers were playing a struggling UMKC team (3-12), Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine saw this game as an opportunity to start Simmons and Hay.
"It gave these kids the opportunity to get some confidence," Earleywine said. "They so needed that after the All-Americans we faced in the first six or seven games."
Simmons is an outfielder and defensive specialist for the team. She plays primarily in the last two innings of a game when the Tigers have the lead. Despite leading the team in batting average (.429), Earleywine said she needs to improve her hitting to become a starter. But he still believes she is a valuable asset to the team.
"She is probably our best defensive outfielder," Earleywine said. "If she shows me she can get some good quality at-bats she may get some starts."
In the fifth inning, Simmons may have proved Earleywine's point. She dove and caught a sinking line drive in right-centerfield, which drew loud cheers from the crowd.
"I really wasn't thinking a lot when that ball was hit towards me," Simmons said. "I was just trying to react to the ball."
Although it was her first start, Simmons tried to treat it like it was any other game. She tries to take advantage of any opportunity she gets to play. At the plate, Simmons kept it simple and concentrated on putting the ball in play.
"I just wanted to be a solid player for the day," Simmons said. "If you come in expecting your going to start you'll probably get disappointed. We have a lot of good players on our team so anybody at any time can start. I'm just happy to do what I can when given the opportunities."
Hay is the opposite of Simmons. Hay is primarily a pinch-hitter, and her first two starts were at the designated player position. The right-handed catcher grabbed Earleywine's attention in the Black and Gold game in February when she blasted a home run. Earleywine considered her as a potential starter at the beginning of the season, but he said she still needs to improve.
"She's had a good season, but I don't think she's anywhere near reaching her potential," Earleywine said. "She is a kid with enormous power. You will know that Rachel has arrived when she is hitting two to three home runs a game."
The Tigers went undefeated (4-0) in the tournament, and only allowed three runs in four games.
The Tigers will play again at 3 p.m. Wednesday against Northern Iowa at University Field.