Missouri softball team sweeps Iowa State doubleheader

Saturday, May 14, 2011 | 9:35 p.m. CDT; updated 9:52 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 14, 2011
Missouri senior first baseman Abby Vock takes the throw to put out Iowa State's Evan Folks in Saturday's doubleheader at University Field.

COLUMBIA — Her coach walked out of the dugout with his hand over his mouth, saying he was in awe and shock. 

"Man, that was a 'big girl' home run," coach Ehren Earleywine said of Abby Vock's home run in the final game of the Iowa State series. 

It was the senior's second home run in the Iowa State series that MU swept, winning the first game 8-2 and the second 8-1.

The two wins guarantee the No. 6 Tigers (46-17, 15-3 Big 12) a share of the Big 12 championship. Texas (45-7, 14-3 Big 12)  plays Baylor at noon Sunday, and if the Longhorns win they will be co-champions with the Tigers. A loss by Texas will make MU the outright champions, a first for the program since 1997. 

But Vock's day contained two victories. Her day began at 6:30 a.m. in a black cap and gown at Mizzou Arena for MU's Honor Convocation. She said the game was more important to her than graduation. 

"I knew I was going to graduate today," Vock said. "The rest was a surprise."

She'd packed her softball uniform, and the Robert J. Trulaske Jr. Business School graduate headed to University Field. There she hit a pitch from Iowa State's Breeanna Holliday harder she'd ever hit a ball before, Earleywine said. 

"That was by far the farthest ball she's ever hit in her life," Earleywine said. "She knew she did something she'd never done before."

Vock was one of two  MU players with two homers Saturday. In the third inning of both games junior Ashley Fleming hit three-run homers and led the Tigers for the day with three runs and 6 RBI. She holds the team-high 12 home-runs for the season.

Earleywine called the team's share, and potential claim, of the Big 12 title "elusive."

"So many times we've had it right in our hands, and it's slipped away," Earleywine said.

He's referring to last season when the Tigers fell 9-0 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament championship game. MU claimed the tournament championship in 2009, but had been eliminated in the first game the season before. In 2006 and 2007 Missouri lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament semi-finals. 

Those are the only years Earleywine has seen with the Tigers, but he says that from Day One his goal was to be top of the Big 12. 

This season's championship was different from previous years in that there was no tournament. The champion is determined by the 18 regular season conference games each team plays. 

"We did it legitimately over 18 games, not over a three-day tournament," Earleywine said. "It was a big statement. It's confirmation and closure that we do belong."

A rainy Sunday forecast pushed the second game to Saturday, and the doubleheader meant sophomore Chelsea Thomas (27-5) would not be pitching both games. But junior Kristin Nottelmann (15-1) pitched game two, giving up only three hits and one run. 

"We wanted Chelsea to be able to throw both games, that's the no-brainer," Earleywine said. "I really don't think it would have mattered. Kristin did a great job."

The day lacked the excitement a tournament brings, and the bitter breeze didn't help.

"In many ways it was dreary, anti-climatic," Earleywine said.

But the wind blew the Tigers' way, and Earleywine told his team to remember the 18 games that went into that day and all the emotions, struggles and fight they put into each one. 

Earleywine said to his team after the game, "It may not be in you right now, but at some point you're going to realize this is a big deal."

MU has hopes of hosting the NCAA Regionals that begin Thursday. The team is hosting an NCAA Selection Show watch party Sunday night at 9 p.m. at the Clinton Club in Mizzou Arena. The event will air live on ESPNU. 

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