COLUMBIA — In the pregame introductions for Missouri's softball game against Illinois State, junior Catherine Lee stood out.
While the other Tigers casually walked out of the dugout, Lee looked like a cheerleader when her name was announced. She bounced around like a someone on a Pogo Stick high-fiving her teammates.
Lee did not look like a player that was struggling. She came into the game with a .156 batting average and had not had an extra-base hit all season. That changed Sunday. Lee ended her hitting slump going 3-for-5 with a solo home run and two runs to lead the Tigers to a 3-1 victory against Illinois State and a 9-1 win against Bradley in the Children's Hospital Invitational at University Field.
Despite Lee's early struggles, Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine continued to start her. Lee is a transfer student from Georgia State and Earleywine said he was impressed with her athleticism and attitude. Earleywine said he was amazed how she could remain so cheerful despite having a slow start to the season.
"I don't know how she does it, I wish I was more like her," Earleywine said. "I admire her so much. She struggled a lot the first three weeks of the season, and she comes out with a smile and a great attitude. She sees the world with the cup half full all the time. It's much bigger than softball. It's just Cat. She is an inspiration to me and the team."
With the score tied 1-1 in the fourth inning against Illinois State, Lee got her best hit of the season. Lee hit line drive that snuck over the left field fence for a home run. Her teammates rushed on the field like a college basketball crowd rushing the court after an upset victory. The Tigers greeted Lee with pats on the helmet and back while chants of M-I-Z Z-O-U rained down from the crowd. When Lee came out to play first base in the next inning, her wide smile made it look like she just won a game show.
"I try to be more aggressive with pitches that are low. " Lee said. "If I am not hitting well, I'm not going to take that onto the field. When your in a slump, it's good to know your coach and your team is behind you. Hopefully this week marks the turning point."
In Lee's two years at Georgia State, she hit 22 home runs and had a batting average over .300. But since joining the Tigers, Lee has struggled to hit the rise ball and Earleywine said she is still adjusting to the pitch.
"Catherine is a real good low-ball hitter, and she's been matched up with a lot of rise ball pitchers the past few weeks and it's made it really tough on her," Earleywine said. "This weekend we were matched up with low ball pitchers, and it was an opportunity for her to get back to her comfort level."
At Georgia State, Lee said she had an unorthodox batting stance. Her feet were spread far apart, and she would hold her bat high above her head.
"If someone saw me warming up (when playing at Georgia State) they'd say 'Wow I don't think that girl can hit.'" Lee said.
Lee has made some adjustments since then. Her feet are much closer to each other and her bat stays level with her neck in a straight line. Earleywine said the coaching staff is working with her to hit pitches that are higher in the strike zone and he hopes to keep her as a starter when Big 12 Conference play begins.
"We are working her to be a well-rounded hitter instead of just hitting the low ball all the time," Earleywine said. "It's up to her how fast she makes those adjustments. The ball is in her court. We will just have to see what she does with it."
Lee was not the only Tiger to hit a home run Sunday. Jenna Marston (2), Rhea Taylor (2) and Nicole Hudson (4) all hit home runs against Bradley to help the Tigers win by the run rule.
The Tigers pitching staff has only allowed five runs in their past seven games. Missouri pitcher Chelsea Thomas pitched a complete game against Illinois State and got a personal best 14 strike outs. Kristin Nottelmann and Jana Hainey combined to pitch five innings against Bradley, allowing three hits and striking out three.
Kathryn Poet got her first at bat against Illinois State after having knee surgery last season. Doctors cleared Poet to play last Monday, and she hit an RBI single in sixth inning.
"It has been hard just sitting and waiting (to play)," Poet said. "I'm ready to go."
Sunday's victories extended the Tigers winning streak to 14 games and improved their record to 16-2. The team will play in a doubleheader Wednesday against Wichita State starting at 3 p.m. at University Field.