Missouri softball hosts Big 12 opponent for first time this season

Friday, April 8, 2011 | 6:32 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – Rhea Taylor never seems to stop adding to her resume. The owner of numerous school and Big 12 records, the senior outfielder garnered her most prestigious honor Wednesday when it was announced that she was one of 21 players invited to try out for the USA national women’s softball team this summer.

“It’s what I’ve been dreaming of for a long time now,” Taylor said. “I had the choice to go pro, but I really really wanted to at least get a tryout for the national team. I was praying that hopefully it was going to come along. I was waiting for a while there, but coach E (Ehren Earleywine) finally told me and I was excited.”

Saturday's game

No. 12 Missouri (30-5)

vs. No. 20 Texas A&M (30-9)

WHEN: 1 p.m.

WHERE: University Field

Though the announcement came Wednesday, Taylor and a few of her teammates had known for a while. Fellow senior Catherine Williams was one of the few that Taylor told early. And though Taylor told her not to say anything to anyone, Williams said she struggled keeping the secret.

“It took everything not to say,” Williams said. “I let it slip to a few people and she (Taylor) was like, ‘Cat, you can’t tell.’ It’s just so exciting. It’s like finding out you got accepted to a university and you’re wanting to tell everybody you got in.”

Earleywine said he knew even before the decision was made. When the team traveled to Tampa, Fla., for the USF tournament at the beginning of the season, Earleywine emailed South Florida’s coach Ken Eriksen, who also happens to coach the USA national team, telling him to keep an eye on Taylor.

“He didn’t email me back,” Earleywine said. “So we went down there and we played them (South Florida). Rhea hits a home run, a couple base hits, steals two or three bases. After the game I shook his (Eriksen’s) hand and said, ‘I told you so.’ He said, ‘I really like her a lot.’ So I knew at that point it was a done deal.”

Earleywine couldn’t say enough about how proud he was for Taylor and all she’s accomplished. But he also admitted that the invitation is nice for Missouri too.

“It lends credibility to your program,” Earleywine said. “It lends credibility to your coaches because when somebody asks Rhea, ‘How’d you do this? How’d you put up these numbers?’ she’ll be quick to give the coaches credit. When recruits and freshmen and other people hear that, they buy in. That really helps what we’re trying to do.”

This week the only thing the Missouri players and staff were trying to do was recover from their recent road trips. After playing six games in three different cities in Texas over nine days, the Tigers were on the road again Wednesday in Evansville, Ind., for a doubleheader. Now they’re just glad to be home for a weekend.

“When you look at our schedule on paper it doesn’t look daunting from a travel perspective,” Earleywine said. “But when you play out that nine days on the road in Texas and then come back and go to Evansville two or three days later and don’t get home from Evansville until 1:30 in the morning, I’m still recovering.”

With a 5-1 record in conference play, the No. 12 Tigers (30-5) will finally play host to a Big 12 opponent this weekend. Earleywine said he’s happy to finally play some meaningful games at home.

Missouri will be putting its nation-leading 28-game home win streak on the line against No. 20 Texas A&M. The Tigers and the Aggies split their two-game series last year. And it’s the one-run loss, not the 13-run win, that has stuck with the Missouri players.

“We owe Texas A&M. They beat us on television last year after we killed them,” Lee said. “It’s definitely going to be a big weekend for us.”

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