COLUMBIA — Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine kept most of his regular starters in the lineup in Thursday's game against Central Methodist.
He made one change at the ninth spot of the lineup where freshman Ashlie Ortega started at second base. It was Ortega's first start, she went 0-for-3 in a 5-0 victory at University Field. She was surprised to see her name on the starting lineup card but said she wasn't nervous. Ortega looked happy sprinting out of the dugout each time she took the field.
"I was excited," Ortega said. "It's different starting in college ball, and makes you feel like your something good and let's you know you've been progressing throughout the season. I was just locked in."
The little-used freshman gets most of her playing time pinch running or pinch hitting in games where the Tigers have comfortable leads. Earleywine said Ortega looked good in batting practice and had solid at bats against Wednesday at Iowa State, prompting him to give her the start.
"I liked the look in her eye, so I gave her a shot," Earleywine said.
Ortega brings toughness to the team, a reason Earleywine recruited her. After recruiting five freshman for the 2010 squad, Earleywine thought he was done, but after watching Ortega play he decided to add one more.
"What I saw in her was something I hadn't seen until the last week or two," Earleywine said, "a real competitive kid who hates to lose, a kid who grinds out at bats, plays really hard, always has the dirtiest uniform on the field.
"We haven't seen that Ashlie Ortega her entire freshman year. We were kind of thinking, where is she, and is she going to show up. The last week or two, she's shown some really good batting practice rounds and almost had a different demeanor and her body posture is different. Maybe she is finally getting comfortable, your freshman year is always tough. She has finally starting to look like her old self, I hope she puts the pieces of the puzzle together because she was a real special player in high school, she really was."
The softball field is not the only place Ortega displays her toughness.
She loves the UFC," Earleywine said. "She fights with her brother all the time, like they do mixed martial arts and stuff, she's a tough, tough kid. If you got in a bar room fight she's someone you would want on your side."
Ortega played for the Erie High School softball team in Brighton, Colo., where her team won three state championships. She was the team captain her last two years, and had a 1.030 slugging percentage her senior year.
Despite being a freshman, Ortega said she tries to take charge of the infield.
"I'm a pretty big talker," she said. "I just try to make sure everyone knows where to go."
Despite winning the game, Earleywine was frustrated. He normally talks to the team in a team huddle after games. This time Earleywine stormed over to the huddle saying a couple of words before heading back to the dugout. The Tigers did not score a run until the fifth inning and only had five hits. The Tigers defeated Central Methodist 7-1 on April 22.
"There were virtually no bright spots for me today," Earleywine said. "I didn't leave it up to them, I just didn't have anything to say. I was all out of nice. Only things I was going to say were going to be hurtful and probably weren't going to get us anywhere anyway. You should win that game 23 to nothing."
Missouri pitcher Kristin Nottelmann admitted she figured playing Central Methodist would be an easy game.
"It was supposed to be, but it didn't end up being that way," Nottelmann said. "I think that's one of our weaknesses, we come of the weekend or off a mid-week game against a Big 12 team, and we're like, 'OK they are going to be a lot easier than that.' We let them hang around too long."
Nottelmann pitched a one-hitter. She went seven innings walking two batters and striking out 11. The one hit she gave up came when Central Methodist had two outs in the final innings. It was a ground ball that squeaked past Ortega.
"Yeah it always is (disappointing)," Nottelmann said. "I threw well so I can't really complain."
Missouri (38-9, 8-6) will play their final home series starting at 2 p.m Saturday at University Field.