COLUMBIA — Missouri junior Rhea Taylor was ready for the coach's signal. A fan behind her held a bright yellow sign with her name on it, but she kept her gaze on the pitcher. Hands clinched, one foot on first base and the other in front of her, she looked like a wide receiver at the line of scrimmage.
As the pitcher released the ball, Taylor broke into a sprint then slid feet first into second base and was called safe. Applause from the crowd greeting her as she stepped from the bag to catch her breath. Only then did he glance at the sign.
"Steal the record Rhea," it read.
"I don't hesistate. Any time I steal, I make it every single time," Taylor said in one breath. "I'm always ready to steal."
Taylor, a two-time All-American for the Missouri softball team, went 1-for-4 and scored a run for the Tigers on Sunday in a 5-1 victory over Northwestern in the Demarini Invitational at Dan Devine Pavillion. Her base running performance tied the school record for stolen bases in a career at 110. Julie Link had held the mark alone for the past 21 years.
When she is on the base, Taylor takes advantage of any mistakes the pitcher or catcher make. Against Northwestern, she advanced from second to home plate on wild pitches, making plays that could have been close look easy.
When Taylor came to Missouri she was not expected to be a starter and Earleywine called her "a project." But after being a right-handed hitter in high school, Taylor has adjusted to hitting from the left side as a slap hitter.
"I love slapping, I wouldn't change anything," Taylor said. "I think it's easier than swinging away."
Taylor, entered the game with a .482 batting average and .732 slugging percentage. Combined with her speed, her ability to make contact has made her the Tigers' leadoff batter.
"She has been a big suprise. She developed really fast," Earleywine said. "Rhea is our table setter, she the one who ignites our offense "As she goes, we go. It's important to have a kid like that at the top of your lineup. She has done a fabulous job."
Taylor came close to breaking the stolen bases record in the sixth inning. She ran on a 1-1 count but senior Michaele Vock ended up grounding out on the play.
Earleywine said that before Sunday's game, he was unaware that Taylor was close to breaking the record, but he plans on it being broken Saturday when the Tigers travel to Norman, Okla., for a 2 .m. game against No. 9 Oklahoma.
"We'll celebrate that at Oklahoma and hopefully two wins too," Earleywine said with a smile.