COLUMBIA – Everyone at University Field watched the ball in disbelief as it made its way toward the left field wall.
Then the stands reverberated with the sound of jumping feet clanking against metal bleachers and 900-plus sets of hands clapping furiously. Usually-stoic Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine threw up both his hands as he stood next to third base. The players swarmed out of the dugout to crowd home plate as the public address announcer bellowed “Tigers win!”
No. 9 Missouri (34-5, 8-1)
vs. No. 14 Oklahoma (33-12, 6-4)
WHEN: 3 p.m.
WHERE: University Field
Meanwhile, the most surprised person in the stadium was probably the one who hit the home run.
“I thought it was at the warning track, but I just ran,” senior second baseman Abby Vock said after the game.
Vock’s solo home run ended an extra-inning game, securing a 3-2 win for No. 9 Missouri (34-5, 8-1) over No. 14 Oklahoma (33-12, 6-4) on Saturday in nine innings.
“I can’t remember a more dramatic (win) or a more unsuspecting person,” Earleywine said. “That was as exciting and as fun of a win as I’ve had as a coach in a long long time.”
Vock, who is known for defensive prowess, not her hitting, had just two home runs entering Saturday’s game. But after making an unusual fielding error in the fourth inning, Vock was happy to have the chance to redeem herself.
“I knew I made a mistake in the fourth inning, so I wanted to come back and do something, make a difference,” she said. “It just happened. I just put a swing on it.”
One of the quieter players on the team, Vock had to pay the price for her heroics when she met her teammates at home plate.
“They were hitting my helmet, I felt really dizzy. I was like, ‘Please stop.’”
The Tigers' celebration might have been rougher than usual because of their excitement about beating Oklahoma at home.
“I think for all of us, the excitement comes from the fact that two years ago we had a chance to clinch the conference championship here, and they (Oklahoma) took two games from us,” Earleywine said. “We just had to get off the hook. It’s amazing how one swing can change so many things.”
One thing that won’t change is the rivalry between the two teams. According to senior catcher Megan Christopher, the Missouri players look forward to playing Oklahoma more than anybody else.
“We’re supposed to have a rivalry with KU, and we do, but put the O in front of the U, I mean that’s more of a rivalry than KU,” Christopher said. “We’ve been looking forward to this series for a while now.”
That sense of rivalry was most apparent in the second inning when Oklahoma’s senior third baseman Dani Dobbs tried to beat a throw to home plate. Instead of avoiding Christopher, Dobbs ran right through her. Christopher held onto the ball to get the out, and then gave Dobbs a little tap on the head with her glove while they were both still on the ground.
When asked after the game if Christopher was just making sure Dobbs was called out or if there was a little extra to that tap across the helmet, Christopher laughed as she answered, “No comment.”
Redshirt sophomore Chelsea Thomas proved her durability on the mound, lasting all nine innings for the Tigers. Thomas set a personal career record with 17 strikeouts, while allowing seven hits and two runs, one of which was unearned. Starting in the first inning, when the Sooners had runners on first and third with only one out, Thomas worked her way out of some tough spots throughout the entire game.
“That is a sign of great pitchers; when they get into a jam, they’ve got another gear,” Earleywine said. “And you saw her shift several times and just shut it down.”
Thomas was scheduled to pitch both games this weekend, but after throwing 161 pitches over nine innings Saturday, Earleywine said it’s not certain she will throw Sunday.
“We’re going to wake up tomorrow and see how she feels,” Earleywine said. “We have a grip test that gives us a pretty good indicator of the strength in her right hand. If all those things line up OK, then we’ll throw her.”
If not, Earleywine said he has no problem handing the ball over to junior Kristin Nottelmann.
Missouri will look to extend its nation-leading home winning streak, which now stands at 31 games, at 3 p.m. on Sunday. The game will be televised on ESPN.