COLUMBIA — The Tigers' 17-game winning streak ended Friday in a 2-1 loss against Ball State in the Demarini Invitational.
The Tigers came off a 7-1 victory against Northern Colorado (7-18) earlier in the day and they came out of the dugout looking relaxed. On the other side of the field, Ball State softball players were jumping up and down, chanting like cheerleaders.
The Tigers' mood changed in the bottom of the seventh inning. Down 2-1, the Tigers stood on the edge of the dugout shouting word of encouragement to their teammates. But when junior Shana White grounded out to end the game, the team fell silent and looks of disbelief swept across their faces.
"In the first six innings they were on cruise control," Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said of the team. "The seventh inning it's like 'Come on, let's go!' There are seven innings to a game, and we have to play all seven. We got punched in the mouth today."
Fleming came into the game as the Tigers' hottest hitter. She had an eight-game hitting streak with a .421 batting average. In a game last Friday against New Mexico, Fleming was caught second-guessing her at-bats. Earleywine challenged Fleming to quit worrying about her previous at-bats and told her to go out and get a hit. Since then, she had had eight hits, including home runs, in the past three games.
"Sometimes I tend to analyze it too much," Fleming said of her at-bats. "He told me instead of thinking about the fundamentals, just drive the ball over the right-center field fence."
Earlier in the season Earleywine said Fleming would "put on displays" in batting practices, hitting many balls over the fence. Fleming made solid contact Friday including a sharp line drive toward first base, but every time she hit the ball it ended up in the glove of a Ball State player, ending her eight-game hitting streak.
"I try not to tell myself to lift the ball and hit the home run," Fleming said. "I just try to get on top of it, especially against a rise ball pitcher."
The Tigers faced Ball State ace Elizabeth Milan, who came into the game with a .054 ERA. The Tigers had trouble adjusting to Milan's rise ball, causing many Tiger batters to hit pop flies.
"I thought we hit the ball pretty well, but, well, we just hit them at people," Earleywine said. "We could have done a better job hitting."
Ball State scored the go-ahead run in the fourth on a suicide-squeeze. Kristin Nottelmann kept the Tigers in the game. She only allowed two runs and six hits, and she struck out four batters. She was pleased with her performance.
"I actually felt really good today," Nottelmann said. "It was a little disappointing. So far that was the best I felt (this season)."
The loss against Ball State and the win against Northern Colorado on Friday brings the Tigers' record to 19-3 this season. The team will play on Saturday against Northwestern at 1 p.m. and against Eastern Michigan at 3 p.m.