COLUMBIA — Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine said after Friday night’s victory against Baylor that, despite the win, he needed more players on his team with “ice water in their veins.”
He discussed his wish for a test that could determine whether or not a person has that distinct ability to perform in crucial situations so he could more assuredly play them in a pivotal point in a game or recruit them to his team.
Thomas's shutout seventh inning earned her second save of the season and fifth of her career.
Junior catcher Jenna Marston technically did not have an at bat in Saturday's game, walking three times going 0-0. Those three walks gave her a team-leading 24 this season.
All three of Missouri's pitchers, Thomas, Saturday's starter Kristin Nottelmann (9-2) and freshman Bailey Erwin threw in Saturday's game marking the fourth time this has happened this season. Erwin, (5-0) who threw just two thirds of an inning, earned the victory.
Unfortunately for Earleywine, no such test exists, and for now, he just has to settle for his theory, that “you either are clutch or you’re not.” There can be a lot of tough lessons learned waiting to find that out about a player, but lucky for Earleywine, he found out for sure about one of his players on Saturday evening.
In the sixth inning, the No. 12-ranked Tigers had been one-hit by Baylor’s Liz Paul and were trailing 2-0. Then as junior outfielder Nicole Hudson said after the game, the Tigers had had enough. Freshman Ashtin Stephens led off the inning with a single through left side, and after a strikeout, the next two hitters reached base leaving Hudson due up with the bases loaded.
She approached the plate without the usual sound of the crowd stomping to her walk-up music, Johnny Cash’s “God Gonna Cut You Down,” which apparently the booth forgot to play it.
But one pitch into the at-bat, Baylor coach Glenn Moore came out of the dugout to speak with Paul. During this intermission the booth redeemed itself and played Cash’s epic song. And almost on cue, the next pitch Hudson saw was deposited over the right field fence for a home run, proving to all 1,044 people in attendance at University Field, a nationally televised audience and most importantly to her coach, that she does have ice water in her veins.
“I was just hoping to get a chance to hit with some runners on," Husdon said about the at-bat that turned a two-run deficit into a 4-2 Missouri lead. "And with the base loaded, I figure that’s your perfect situation because she’s going to have to bring something into me and sure enough, she left one low and over the plate.”
Earleywine, who was getting visibly frustrated with his hitters throughout the game sounded appreciative of Hudson's long ball.
"We needed somebody from the upper class to come through with a big hit," Earleywine said. "We just haven’t had that in a while. I’m real thankful for that."
The grand slam was the Tigers' second in as many games. Missouri (27-5, 6-2 Big 12) continued to power through Baylor, winning two straight. The victory was an important one for the Tigers, not only because they will have an opportunity to sweep a conference foe, but because it keeps them in the hunt for a Big 12 Conference regular season championship.
"I was just telling my coaches that if we lose that game, we can forget about winning the Big 12,” Earleywine said after the win. “You know, we still have to go to Texas, and we still have to go to Oklahoma, and you can’t go in there already with three losses.”
Earleywine might be getting a little ahead of himself. The Tigers still have one more game left to play to finish off Baylor before they head to Texas next week. But who could blame him for feeling confident. He will send junior phenom Chelsea Thomas (13-3) to the mound for Game 3. Thomas not only pitched the the first game of the series but also earned the save in Saturday's game. She will start for Missouri when it goes for the sweep against Baylor at noon Sunday at University Field.