OKLAHOMA CITY - For the second year in a row the Missouri softball team was the first team to be eliminated from the Women's College World Series in a 5-0 loss to Florida Saturday at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
Missouri (51-13) was never able to recover from a fourth inning two-run home run by Florida's Brittany Schutte and the Gators would later hit two more home runs to put the game out of reach.
"I really felt around the fifth or sixth inning I started to lose hope to be honest with you," Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said.
In the post game press conference, Missouri players looked like they lost a family member with their eyes bloodshot and filled with tears. In the seventh inning, Earleywine brought in senior Jana Hainey in for her first WCWS appearance. Afterward the emotional left-hander reflected on her time with the team.
"I never would have imagined being here twice," Hainey said. It's been awesome but you wish you could go out on a win, but in reality not many people do. It's been a great, great career at Mizzou."
Missouri had runners in scoring position in three of the seven innings including having the bases loaded. The offense left eight runners on base, and Missouri sophomore Ashely Fleming was accountable for six of them. The offense out-hit the Gators six to four, but was not able to get the big hit when it counted.
"I take a lot of the blame offensively," Fleming said while her voice was cracking. "They had my number. they kept throwing away to me and I just wasn't connecting."
"It could have been nerves," Earleywine said about the team's offense. "It looked like when we got situations when we could have put the noose around their neck and cinch it down, we got fearful. That is about fear and it is about courage. I think we just took so many pitches and we were so passive some of those nerves could have been stage related."
Missouri's offense averaged 3.3 runs per game in the NCAA tournament, but was never able to break out of slump.
"There were some days were we hit six home runs in a game," Earleywine said. "We were very versatile offensively all season but unfortunately this weekend we didn't come through."
Kristin Nottelmann had another solid performance. She allowed three hits, three earned runs, and struck out three batters. The sophomore right-hander won five straight games prior to the WCWS in the NCAA tournament. Earleywine said she was a huge bright spot for Missouri and said she could possibly get more pitching time next year, even with a healthy Missouri ace Chelsea Thomas. Thomas was out for the season after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in her right wrist in late-March.
"What a blessing in disguise that whole situation ended up being," Earleywine said. "If Chelsea stays healthy, you may not have that option in the years ahead to go to Kristin in big games because you just don't know. But now we know she can give you good innings in big games and that can save Chelsea's arm."
Even with the sour taste in Earleywine's mouth, he was very confident in the future of the program. He even said that the team will make it back to the WCWS next season.
"We are so confident in our future there are no words to express it," he said. "Part of my excitement comes because I know that the bad taste is going to sit with a lot of these kids and it's going to burn. It's going to burn bad. When we get back here we are going to get it right the third time."