COLUMBIA — With the Missouri softball team down 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Tigers needed a spark. They found it in freshman Jenna Marston.
With two runners on base, her home run over the left field fence pushed the Tigers ahead, but Marston said she didn't realize she had hit the game-winner until she rounded third base. Marston, who rarely expresses any emotion on the field, cracked a smile as she touched home plate surrounded by celebrating teammates.
"The first couple pitches, I was actually going to bunt," Marston said. "Having it being against Kansas made it pretty awesome."
"J.J. (Jenna Marston) let us off the hook with that big swing," Earleywine said. "That was really the only good wood we had the whole game. We needed something like that to lift us up."
The home run was Marston's third of the season and her first winning hit. Marston had three hits, three RBIs and two runs in the Tigers' doubleheader sweep of Kansas. After the 5-4 win in Game 1, Missouri claimed a six-inning 10-2 victory in Game 2 on Wednesday at University Field.
Marston has been a model of consistency at the plate, which has made it hard to keep the shortstop out of the lineup, and she has played in all 33 of the Tigers' games. She leads the team with 30 RBIs and has 15 hits in her past 12 games. Earleywine said Marston is the most impressive freshman hitter he has seen since he began coaching the team in 2007.
"She's really the only one that has given us consistent, professional type at-bats. It's so funny to say that because she is a freshman," Earleywine said. "Usually freshman have a lot of amateur at-bats where they will swing at bad pitches. It's surprising because she has managed her at-bats better than anyone in my lineup. She always puts the ball in play and always has an idea of what to do."
Earleywine said Marston is not the player that will be a cheerleader in the dugout, but one that is quiet and that makes adjustments at the plate on her own. Earleywine describes her as a cerebral player and he credits her close analysis of her at-bats to her success.
"If I'm another player, I'd be looking at her thinking 'she's really quiet, she's a freshman, what is she doing that's working for her?'" Earleywine said. "'What is it that 26 is doing because she's got it figured out.'"
Earleywine said Marston keeps her swing simple making it solid mechanically. Marston credits her father, Bill Marston, for helping develop her swing.
"He was my hitting instructor growing up," Marston said. "Then when I came here, Coach E and coach (Phil) Bradley helped me make adjustments from there."
At the beginning of the season, Earleywine said he was 99 percent sure Marston would start. When Earleywine saw how she played, he said few adjustments had to be made for her to be ready to play at the collegiate level.
"J.J. moves unlike most girls," Earleywine said. "J.J. moves like a guy, and I say that as a compliment. Eventually she is going to be one of the best players in college softball. There has never been a point where she has gone backwards."
While Marston's clutch hit might not have come as a surprise, junior Lisa Simmons performance in Game 2 did.
With Kansas leading 2-1, Simmons hit a three-run blast which was her first collegiate home run. Simmons was ecstatic, raising her fist as soon as she saw the ball clear the fence. Her arms flailed and she leaped into the crowd teammates waiting for her at home plate.
"After I hit that momentum came our way," Simmons said. "Of course I was happy about it, I was excited."
The wins improve the Tigers to 27-6 overall and 3-3 in the Big 12 Conference. Missouri plays next at 1 p.m. Saturday at Texas.