Taylor breaks another record for Missouri softball team in win against Arkansas

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 | 9:27 p.m. CST
Missouri outfielder Rhea Taylor slides into third base on Wednesday at University Field. Taylor was called safe after advancing on a fly ball.

COLUMBIA — Rhea Taylor never hesitated.

Missouri's lead-off hitter had reached first base on an error in the first inning, but she didn't let her feet get too comfortable. As soon as Arkansas pitcher Kim Jones threw her next pitch, Taylor left for second base.

Taylor slid head-first into second base, with the infield dirt streaking up her right leg and abdomen. It was quick and easy. She beat the catcher's throw by at least a second.

But even after 154 steals, it wasn't as easy as it looked.

"I was actually changing my slide, which was kind of scary," Taylor said

Taylor arrived Wednesday at University Field ready to try out the new way of stealing. Usually she slides feet-first but doing so has caused knee problems. The head-first method, though new and scary, prevents aggravating her knees.

The steal, her 154th at Missouri, broke the Big 12 Conference record. It seemed fitting that the senior, who is quickly breaking records, would break another as soon as she arrived on base.

"That's Rhea, isn't it?" Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. "That's what she does."

Waiting isn't her thing.

"If it's not on the first three pitches, than it's not going to be at all," Taylor said.

Hesitation isn't for her team, either. The No. 14 Tigers scored four runs in the first inning and another six in the second inning Wednesday en route to a 12-0 victory over Arkansas in five innings.

Although Taylor only stole one base against the Razorbacks, she stole five bases for Missouri (12-3) last weekend to tie the Big 12 record Texas A&M's Sharonda McDonald set in 2007.

Against Saint Louis University on Saturday, she also broke MU's record for career hits.

With all the attention last week surrounding pitcher Chelsea Thomas' two perfect games and Kristen Nottelmann's no-hitter, Taylor's accomplishments have been overlooked. Her teammates haven't taken her for granted, though.

"What impresses me most is how she's so versatile," right fielder Ashley Fleming said. "She can do everything. At the end of last season, she started hitting for power, and I've seen her make great improvements in the outfield since her freshman year. It's great to have her at the top of our lineup starting things off every day."

Along with steals, Taylor can potentially break the conference records for career batting average, hits and runs records. She said she doesn't try to pay attention to it but sometimes realizes she's about to break something new.

"I see them when I go online," Taylor said. "I'm like, 'Oh, that's cool! I'll do that in the next game.'"

Against Arkansas (9-12), Taylor didn't have any hits, but she reached base twice and relied on her teammates for the rest, scoring both times. Fleming hit a three-run home run over the right field wall in the first inning, and in the second inning Missouri had already taken an eight-run lead, shortening the game to five innings.

Fleming said that the Tigers joked about reaching eight runs quickly to escape the cold and windy weather but she actually doesn't mind playing in it.

"Sometimes it kind of helps me because it takes my mind off of the little details of hitting," she said.

On Wednesday, Fleming led the Tigers with two hits, two runs and 5 RBIs. So far this season she has a .450 batting average and leads the team with 16 RBIs. She's yet another reason why Missouri has won nine games in a row.

"It gives the team a real settled feeling when you come to the park, knowing that your stroke is pretty good and your team is pretty good," Earleywine said.

Earleywine said that at times team has relied too much on Taylor's steals for runs. Since losing two of its first three games, the Tigers have been right behind her.

"Our confidence has definitely come around since the beginning of the year," Taylor said.

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