COLUMBIA — Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine stood up and slowly trudged to the pitching circle. Shaking his head in frustration, Earleywine angrily snatched the ball that pitcher Kristin Nottelmann tossed to him before she headed for the dugout.
Nottelmann had just given up a two-run double to Oklahoma State's Sam Hienlein, prompting Earleywine to take her out of the game. Earleywine walked back to the dugout still shaking his head. His mood summed up the Tigers' frustrations after only managing three hits in 11 innings while dropping a doubleheader to No. 15 Oklahoma State. Missouri fell 8-3 in Game 1 and 1-0 in Game 2 on Saturday at University Field. It marked the first time the Tigers lost back-to-back games this season.
"You just kind of feel sick to your stomach, just kind of pissed off," Missouri junior Marla Schweisberger said. "We got to make good plays and put the ball in play, and we didn't really do that today."
The losses put the No. 4 Tigers (25-6, 1-3) three games in back of first place in the Big 12 and mark the team's worst start in the conference since Earleywine took over in 2007. The Tigers were considered one of the favorites to win the Big 12, but after losing Saturday's doubleheader, Earleywine said it may have been a big swing for the team's aspirations to win the conference. The Tigers have struggled since losing ace Chelsea Thomas to a stress fracture in her right wrist. Since the injury, the Tigers have lost three of their past five games since starting the season 23-3.
Game 1 Saturday was a continuation of a game that was suspended in the fourth inning Friday because of rain. After scoring three runs on three hits on Friday, the Tigers could not manage another hit Saturday in the final four innings. Things did not get much better in the second game, the Tigers often hitting weak pop flies in the infield.
"They take swings in games that I don't see them take in practice," Earleywine said. "I think up and down the lineup, I saw girls swinging at pitches they shouldn't be swinging at and mechanically taking swings I don't normally see them take. That's nerves and adrenaline. Maybe they are too geared up, maybe they are trying to hard."
Earleywine had voiced concerns about the team's offense earlier in the season.
"No, no, absolutely not Oklahoma State's pitching (that caused the Tiger's offense to struggle)," Earleywine said. "Those were common pitchers and we made them look big league. It was our own fault. We had control of our own destiny there, we just didn't square it up."
The Tigers came into the game with the fewest errors in the Big 12 with 21. But Game 1 might have been the Tigers' sloppiest of the season. The team committed two errors late in the first game that ended up putting it out of reach. After snagging a ground ball in the sixth inning, Missouri pitcher Jana Hainey floated the ball over the head of first baseman Lindsey Muller, putting Oklahoma State (32-7, 4-0) ahead 7-3.
"That is just not how we play, it's kind of atypical for us," Schweisberger said.
"I just can't explain it," Earleywine said. "I'm with these kids every day practicing. We don't see those types of things, routine overthrows, and we throw the ball to first baseman, and she's not stepping on first base, it's stuff you don't even coach because you learn that in second grade. We'll just have to be better next time. I hope this is not a sign of things to come."
Nottelmann (7-4) took the loss in Game 1. She pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up five runs on six hits, walking four batters and striking out three. Muller (4-1) lost Game 2 pitching 3 1/3 innings allowing one run on three hits.
"One day we are No. 3 in the nation and can beat anybody, the next day we get swept by Oklahoma State," Earleywine said. "This is one of those teams (Oklahoma State) that is one of the better teams in the conference. But you had them at home, and they were beatable, and you didn't capitalize on it. I'm sure it will cost us down the road at some point."
Missouri will play a doubleheader against Kansas (16-19, 0-4) starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday at University Field.