When Baylor first baseman Holly Holl’s home run dropped just beyond the outfield wall of ASA Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday, it not only brought Missouri’s season to an end, but also marked the end of the careers of nine seniors.
As she walked off the field, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Megan Christopher removed her catcher’s mask and wiped a tear from her eye. Just behind her senior Catherine Lee embraced her classmate Rhea Taylor.
After seeing the ball go over the fence, Taylor’s first thought said it all: “This sucks.”
“But even though the ball went over the fence I still think it was a great four years despite what happened,” Taylor said. “I’ve had great teammates and a great coach. That’s all I can ask for.”
That coach, Ehren Earleywine, took time following the loss to reflect on just how much the departing seniors had done for Missouri’s softball program.
“Four years ago this program wasn’t very good,” Earleywine said. “I inherited it and we were under .500 and had a bunch of freshman that we didn’t know how they were going to turn out to be. I’m just very proud of them for taking the program from where it was that day to where we are today.”
Since the departing seniors’ arrival in 2008, Missouri has recorded a program record in wins every season. Its 2011 record of 53-10 stands as Missouri softball’s best of all-time. The nine seniors have won two Big 12 Championships, a conference tournament title in 2009 and in the regular season title this year.
They have also appeared in three consecutive Women’s College World Series, and Saturday afternoon against Oklahoma, the Tigers finally captured a win on the big stage. It was Missouri’s first victory at the World Series since a 2-0 win over Utah in 1991.
Since Earleywine arrived at Missouri from his previous job at Georgia Tech in 2007, Missouri softball has an overall record of 241-76 and a winning percentage of .760. Earleywine attributed his success at Missouri to his departing seniors.
“It was my dream when I was at Georgia Tech to coach at Mizzou so I could be close to my family and friends,” he said. “This group of kids has allowed me to get contract extensions and keep my job and stay where I want to be. I will be eternally grateful for what they’ve done personally in my life.”
Christopher, a native of Wright City, said the strides that the program has made since her class’s arrival will allow the softball program at Missouri to flourish after its departure.
“When we came here, the program wasn’t anything but a .500 program and now they’re getting great recruits and the program's only going to get better,” Christopher said. “You’re going to keep seeing Missouri in the World Series, and they’re going to come out up on top one time.”
Earleywine echoed Christopher’s sentiment, making it known that it was the departing seniors who had laid the foundation for any success that lies ahead.
“What those seniors have allowed our program to do over the past four years has obviously allowed us to attract top recruits,” Earleywine said. “So it’s just going to continue to get better and better. But if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to attract those kids. They’re the pioneers.”