COLUMBIA – The Missouri softball players crowded around home plate to welcome Rhea Taylor and Marla Schweisberger after Schweisberger launched a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning.
Aside from that highlight, a spectator reading body language wouldn’t have been able to tell the No. 13 Tigers were on their way to getting a shutout and recording their 14th straight win this season.
Missouri (17-3) picked up a 3-0 win over Southern Illinois (13-9) on Wednesday afternoon at University Field. But for Mizzou, that wasn’t good enough.
“Yeah the game got over in an hour and 25 minutes, and it’s good to get out of here and go home and be with my family, but at the same time we should dominate teams like that,” coach Ehren Earleywine said. “We really should.”
Earleywine couldn’t have asked much more from his pitching staff. Redshirt sophomore Chelsea Thomas recorded her seventh win of the season, giving up two hits, one walk and striking out five batters in four innings. Junior Kristin Nottelmann picked up her second save of the year, pitching the last three innings and giving up just one hit while striking out three batters.
Thomas and Nottelmann led Mizzou to its 10th straight shutout. During the Tigers’ 14-game win streak, 11 of the games have been shutouts, and six of those have ended early because of the run rule. Thomas hasn't allowed a run since Missouri lost its last game, a 3-1 defeat to Alabama on Feb. 26.
“We always joke around and say, ‘If you get on the boards first, the game’s won,’” Thomas said. “Usually if we come out and get one or two runs on the board, that gives us the extra confidence that we need.”
But on Wednesday, Missouri didn’t put enough runs on the board to satisfy Earleywine.
“You got to figure that if they’re a mid-tier team … we should throw a shutout or one run, and we should score six, seven, plus runs,” Earleywine said. “It’s not a brag point, That’s just the way I feel. And I think the girls would agree. It’s not a cocky thing or anything like that, it’s just like, OK, we’re one of the top 10 teams in the country, this is what you do when you face mid-tier teams. This is how you treat them.”
Anyone in the stadium could tell the players agreed with Earleywine. Their body language said it all. There were no dropped heads or slumped shoulders — but there were no beaming smiles or enthusiastic high-fives either. Players looked satisfied enough to get the win but less than excited about how they played.
“They were not proud of themselves,” Earleywine said. “They were not happy with their performance.”
Still, after the game Thomas said the team is “100 percent ready” to start conference play. That, Earleywine said, is part of the problem.
“I think that it’s hard for them to get motivated to play Carbondale and this weekend Western (Michigan) and North Dakota State,” Earleywine said. “They’re ready for Big 12 play. The problem with that is, as a player, if you get too caught up in thinking about a month later or two weeks later, in between now and then, you can throw your swing off or you can throw your pitching mechanics off.”
While some coaches talk about good losses that help a team refocus, Earleywine said he hates losing too much to want that. Instead, he hopes a mere 3-0 win will provide a wake-up call for his team.