COLUMBIA — The Tigers were 4-5 in the Big 12 Conference after a victory against Texas Tech last week, but Missouri Coach Ehren Earleywine did not feel it was realistic for the team to win the Big 12. So he laid out a plan to finish near the top of the conference.
"My thoughts right now are we have to sweep Texas Tech, we have to sweep Iowa State and at least split with everybody else," Ehren Earleywine said after the game. "That way you're 11 and seven in Big 12 play. You're near the top of the pack. You're maybe third, fourth, fifth at the worst."
So far, the No. 11 Tiger's are executing Earleywine's plan to perfection. Missouri swept Texas Tech last week, and have ensured at least a split with Texas A&M (35-13, 6-6) after a 14-1 victory in five innings Saturday in College Station, Texas. Missouri (36-8, 6-5) has won 10 straight games, scoring five or more runs in nine of them. The Tigers are now fourth in the conference, four games behind Texas (37-9, 10-1)
Earleywine has been critical of his team's offense this season, but he said the offense has turned the corner since the Tigers scored 17 runs in a doubleheader sweep of SIU-Edwardsville two weeks ago.
"Our kids look a lot better now and have had much better at-bats than they did a month ago," Earleywine said by phone.
"This is the best offensive performance we've had this season. We had really good at-bats up and down the lineup. I was surprised we scored 14 runs against the No. 21 team in the country, but any coach would be lying if they said they weren't surprised that their team scored 14 runs against a team like that."
The Tigers got 10 hits and hit a season-high five home runs in Saturday's game. Missouri juniors Marla Schweisberger (6), Rhea Taylor (5), Catherine Lee (4), sophomore Ashley Fleming (6) and freshman Lindsey Muller (3) all hit home runs.
"We knew we had to come in and play well against a good Texas A&M team," Schweisberger said. "We did a really good job of anticipating the pitches and did a good job handling the rise ball."
Scoring runs off Texas A&M pitcher Rebecca Arbino should not have been easy. She came into the game with a 18-8 record (5th in the Big 12) including nine shutouts (1st), 135 strikeouts (7th) and held opponents to a .210 batting average (9th).
"We watched some film before the game so the girls had a pretty good idea what to look for," Earleywine said.
Schweisberger was an All-American last season with a .390 batting average, a .623 slugging percentage and she also hit eight home runs and 48 RBIs. This season her numbers decreased. She has a .277 batting average and .500 slugging percentage.
A week ago, Earleywine showed Missouri senior Gina Schneider a new batting stance. The stance was more upright and relaxed with the bat still resting on her shoulder. Earleywine showed Schweisberger the same stance but she added her own tweaks to it.
"Today I just bent my knees a little bit more," Schweisberger said. "I still keep the bat still."
Missouri pitcher Jana Hainey (7-0) held a Texas A&M offense that was ranked second in the conference in team batting average (.302) to only four hits. She pitched all five innings only allowing one walk and striking out three batters.
"She was really good with her location today," Earleywine said. "Texas A&M is a team that usually makes good contact. They didn't hit too many good balls today. A lot of their contact was off the hands or the end of the bat."
Game two between Missouri and Texas A&M will air on ESPN at 2 p.m. Sunday.