COLUMBIA — If you went to the bathroom during the sixth inning of the first game of the Missouri softball team's doubleheader against Murray State University on Wednesday evening at University Field, you probably didn't see Ashley Fleming's forgettable 2012 pitching debut.
Fleming, a senior who leads Missouri in almost every countable offensive category, proved to be un-Ruthian in her ability to both bat and pitch.
Fleming's winning home run in Game 1 was her 13th of the season and 40th of her career, making her the fourth player in the program to reach that mark.
Fleming also made an outstanding catch in right field during the second game of the doubleheader by laying out and snagging a line drive headed for the right-centerfield gap.
Hot-hitting sophomore Mackenzie Sykes continues to produce for the Tigers. She went 2-for-4 with a walk, sending her on-base percentage to an impressive .425.
Junior Jenna Marston just keeps on walking. She added three more during the doubleheader giving her a team-leading 42 for the season. Nicole Hudson is in second with 27.
Fleming faced five batters in her first return to the rubber since last season, and she recorded one out. The first three hitters reached base, the fourth flew out and she only got to a 3-0 count on the fifth before Tigers coach Ehren Earleywine tugged at a short leash and sent her back to right field.
Murray State tied the game, scoring four runs in Fleming's sixth inning, three of which counted against her newly acquired 63.00 ERA.
The Tigers eventually won the first game 5-4, after Fleming, who was her normal self in the batter's box in the bottom of the sixth, hit a solo home run to win the game. Missouri, however, lost the second game 3-2*.
Earleywine said Fleming was on the mound because he didn't think freshman starter Bailey Erwin (7-0, 0.97 ERA) had the stamina to finish it off.
"I put her in a position to fail today," Earleywine said of Fleming. "She hasn't pitched all year. She's barely thrown in the bullpen. That's my fault. But it trickles back to the decision on the coaches behalf not to get Bailey in shape because we're all so preoccupied with Chelsea Thomas that sometimes we forget about those kids. Next thing you know, Ashley Fleming is on the mound and it's unfair to her."
Earleywine used Fleming and not Thomas because Thomas "tweaked" her groin over the weekend against Iowa State, and he was being cautious. Earleywine said, however, that Thomas probably could have pitched, but he decided before the game he would be OK experimenting with Fleming on the mound.
It was an experiment gone wrong in an evening full of them.
Starting shortstop and right-handed freshman Corrin Genovese, who is mired in a hitting slump, tried slap-hitting from the left side of the plate but was 0-for-1 before a pinch hitter came in for her in a critical situation late in the second game.
Junior infielder, Princess Krebs, who was recently benched because of poor hitting and fielding at shortstop got a chance to start at second base in the second game, but she went went 0-for-1 and had an error before being taken out.
And then there was Kayla Kingsley. The freshmen has struggled at the plate all season hitting a meager .196. Her struggles have been so bad of late that Earleywine has questioned his decision not to redshirt her. Wednesday, he started her twice, but she went 1-for-6.
"You know you try experimenting, and sometimes it bites you in the butt, and today it definitely did," Earleywine said.
He said he has been experimenting with his lineup because he can't find a lot of consistency from his players. Offensively, the Tigers have been unable to support their stellar pitching staff, which Earleywine said is the reason his team is no longer competing for a Big 12 Conference championship.
It's also the reason he will keep experimenting with the lineup.
"It'd be different if we had six or seven kids that were really lighting it up but we don't," Earleywine said. "We're just trying to find matches that may work down the stretch."
He had better find what he wants soon, because Missouri (38-11)** only has six games left before the NCAA regionals begin — a three-game road series with No. 13 Oregon and a three-game home series Oklahoma State.
"By the end of Oklahoma State, we're going to have to go with a set lineup," Earleywine said.
"Experiment time will be over."