COLUMBIA – Usually, a good day for an umpiring crew is when it makes it through an entire game unnoticed.
Unfortunately for the three umpires calling the Missouri softball team's doubleheader against Texas Tech on Saturday, this wasn't the case. Because of some controversial calls, they became a main attraction.
Chelsea Thomas' win in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader pushes the Missouri pitcher's record to 17-5, and her eight innings pitched without allowing an earned run drops her ERA back below 1.00 to a team-leading 0.97. She also added 11 strikeouts giving her 183 on the season.
Missouri senior outfielder Ashley Fleming remains the Tigers hottest hitter going a combined 3-for-6 in the doubleheader with a home run and three RBIs, pushing her batting average to a team-high .383
Mackenzie Sykes walkoff home run that won the second game of the doubleheader and salvaged the series for the Tigers was her first of the season.
The first contest, won by Texas Tech 5-4, had two clutch home runs, stellar defense and solid pitching.
And the second game, won by Missouri 4-1, was a pitcher’s duel that needed an extra inning to be decided by a walk-off, three-run home run by sophomore Mackenzie Sykes.
But most people weren't talking about the highlights after the games. They were talking about the umpires and the reaction they drew from the teams and fans.
Because of the stormy weather forecast for Sunday, it was decided that the series should be completed Saturday. This was the worst thing that could have happened to home plate umpire Scott Mair, first base umpire Michael Cohen and third base umpire Chris Nabors.
The ire of the crowd Saturday started in the first game and culminated in a nonstop flood of insults hurled at the umpires primarily by Missouri 'super-fan' Larry Wyatt in the second.
It was mostly just the usual. Some fans questioned a particular umpire’s visual capability and implored him to purchase eyesight improving instruments. Others asked if an umpire was making poor calls because he was in a hurry to go see his significant other, while others suggested that an umpire might be more useful if he were watching the game.
The only positive for the umpires was that both teams were equally displeased with the job they were doing, so the one thing they weren’t accused of was favoring the other team.
It wasn’t just the fans either. Missouri’s coach Ehren Earleywine was relentless. If he wasn’t jawing at an official while the games were being played, he was in an umpire’s ear during a break in the game action. During the first game, he had three separate discussions with the umpires within about 15 minutes.
Texas Tech coach Shanon Hays wasn’t immune either. During the eighth inning of the second game, after the third base umpire said he did not see a Texas Tech batter foul the ball off her foot, Hays lost his cool, ripping off his hat while accusing the umpire of missing “one of the easiest calls in the game.”
“I really thought both of us should have been thrown out for the things that we said,” Earleywine said. “They took a lot, and that’s all I'll say about that I guess.”
At times it felt like nothing the umpires did came without a disagreement from someone. Whether it was the strike zone, calls of out and safe, fair and foul or positioning to make a call, as the day progressed, nothing the umpires did went unnoticed. Even good calls were met with sarcastic applause and a Bronx cheer.
And to make matters worse, one of the umpires almost added injury to the rash of insults he and his crew had been taking.
Two times during the doubleheader, the umpire collided with a player on the field. The first time, he ran into and knocked over Missouri second basemen Ashtin Stephens. The second time, he collided with and tripped Texas Tech pitcher Brittany Talley, who remained on the ground a few minutes while being looked at by a trainer, but eventually she, as well as Stephens, was able to remain in the game.
“I was going to ask coach Pinkel if we could get a pancake sticker that we could put on his helmet,” Earleywine joked.
When asked if he had ever seen a game with two collisions like that before, Earleywine laughed.
“I’ve never seen one. I asked him (the umpire), I said 'where were you going?' and he said ‘going over there to get into position,’ and I said 'position is right over here,'” Earleywine said as he gestured in the opposite direction. “It was a crazy game, but I better shut up.”
All-American Missouri pitcher Chelsea Thomas, always the consummate professional, pitched the second game of the doubleheader and remained calm throughout, even when calls weren't going her way.
“It was a little rough,” Thomas said. “But again, you can’t control what they call, and you just got to make adjustments, and you can’t get caught up in complaining about what they call because as soon as you do that, you lose your mental edge."
The Tigers' loss in the first game, combined with Friday night's loss was the first time Missouri (32-8, 10-5 Big 12) has dropped back-to-back games all season. The split keeps the Tigers in third place trailing No. 8 Oklahoma and No. 4 Texas.