COLUMBIA – Ehren Earleywine knew there was something special about this one.
Earleywine, in his sixth year as Missouri's softball coach, didn't know what position she would be playing or where she would be in the batting order, but when asked to name a big-impact newcomer at this season's Black and Gold game back in February, he barely hesitated. Of the 10 freshmen on his roster, the 5-foot-7 chatterbox he had brought all the way from East Amherst, N.Y., was the one he talked about.
vs. Missouri (46-12)
WHEN: The first game is scheduled for 6:30 Saturday night. The next game is scheduled for 2:30 Sunday afternoon, and if necessary, the third game is scheduled for 5 Sunday evening.
WHERE: University Field
TICKETS:Tickets are available at the Mizzou Arena Ticket Office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Orders can also be placed through 1-800-CAT-PAWS or online through Ticketmaster.
PARKING: Parking is available at no charge in the lots to the east of University Field. Access is off of Providence Road because Carrie Francke Drive is closed between the softball stadium and the Research Park Drive intersection. Complimentary shuttles will be available to transport guests from the parking lots to the entrances.
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM
MU athletics has scheduled a Family Fan Fest including face painting, inflatable games and a balloon artist for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the softball parking lot north of University Field.
For more details go to the NCAA Super Regional Central website.
"That kid, she just makes everything look easy," Earleywine said that day.
Corrin Genovese, who says she feels comfortable in any role and is willing to try anything for the team, had just gone 2-for-5 batting leadoff, getting a hit against returning All-American Chelsea Thomas.
"It’s just like, 'Ah, no big deal. Move me around to another position. Third base, second base, yeah. Oh shortstop today? OK, whatever,'" Earleywine said. "It's every play. She gets up there against Chelsea and she looks like she’s a senior. That’s the kind of stuff that gets you to championships."
And that's what the Tigers have been all about. Missouri is two super-regional wins away from its fourth consecutive trip to the Women's College World Series after winning a fifth straight regional championship. Genovese has played all over Missouri's infield, eventually settling at shortstop where she earned the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year award.
What makes Genovese special, Earleywine says, is that she understands just how he wants the game to be played.
"You got to be a stickler for details in practice, and you got to be a gunslinger in the game," he said. "On the field, you can’t be sitting around thinking about mechanics all the time; you just got to play ball, and she’s the best at that."
Genovese plays softball the same way she acts off the field: with a huge personality. Whether it's fielding a bunt up the first-base line from her position at third base or delaying an interview with reporters so she can give an autograph to a young fan, Genovese exudes confidence.
She has played such a key role in the Tigers' success that halfway through the season Earleywine said he didn't know what his team would have done without her, a statement that gives pause if you consider how close Missouri came to going without Genovese's talents.
The first time he saw her play
Earleywine doesn't travel as much as assistant coach Pete D’Amour, who finds prospects and makes recommendations. Earleywine rarely sees a player D’Amour hasn’t seen first.
So in 2009 at a softball tournament in Blue Springs, Earleywine already had a list of players he wanted to look at and Genovese, playing second base for the first time in her life, wasn't one of them. Verbal commitments from 2012 recruits Ashtin Stephens and Kayla Kingsley gave him good potential at the position.
He still ran into Tony Genovese, though.
“I’m tired, just looking for a place to sit down,” Earleywine said. “I’ve been recruiting like eight gazillion hours in a row in the heat at this point. So I go over and plop down at this picnic table, and, sure enough, here’s a dad telling me about his daughter.”
Tony Genovese said Earleywine wasn’t wearing any Missouri apparel, so he had no idea who Earleywine was.
“And he goes, ‘There’s my daughter out there,’" Earleywine said. "At this time, Corrin was like, 5-foot-4 probably, 103 pounds. She was a little bitty thing … and I’m thinking my god, how good can she be?
"So nice of a guy. I just didn’t have time for it, and I was like, I guess I’m not sitting here. So I stood up and I walked out of the park."
However, just before he passed the right-field fence, Earleywine couldn't keep from turning around.
"I hear 'CRACK!' and I turn around and see a line drive going down the left-field line, digging its nose into the corner," he said.
Earleywine watched as Corrin Genovese sped into second base for a double.
"It was almost like she was going ‘Hey, look at me!’" he said.
Still, Earleywine left no closer to recruiting Genovese than when he came to Blue Springs having never heard of her.
“I thought she might be a good little player," Earleywine said. "But I was hot and tired and … I’m outta’ here. I already got second basemen. I’m good.
"But she yelled out at me with the crack of the bat. That’s what happened. ... That’s the first time I saw her.”
The first time he took interest
About six months later, Corrin Genovese appeared on Earleywine’s radar again. This time, her coach Kevin O’Donnell emailed Earleywine to say she was interested in playing for Missouri.
“I know him. He’s reputable,” D’Amour said of O’Donnell. “He tells me about a player, and I’m probably going to check them out. He takes care of us. He’s never steered us wrong before.”
So when O’Donnell brought up Genovese, Earleywine thought twice and told D'Amour to go see her play.
So D’Amour went to a tournament in Texas where Genovese wasn’t planning on letting Missouri walk away without getting its full attention.
“There were no coaches there but Coach Pete,” Genovese said. “It was pretty much fate because at that time Oklahoma, Arizona and Missouri all said that they were coming to the 8 a.m. game, but the other two coaches strolled up around 8:30."
As Earleywine tells the story, the punctual D’Amour had barely made himself comfortable in the stands when Genovese launched a home run in her first at-bat.
D'Amour sent Earleywine a text message to notify him of Genovese’s opening salvo. A little later, D’Amour sent Earleywine another text. Then another. And another. And another.
Genovese finished the tournament with 15 hits in 16 at-bats against what Earleywine called “some of the best teams in the country.”
Impressed, Earleywine got in touch with O’Donnell and let him know Missouri would like to “get the ball rolling.”
The first time they spoke
A short time later, back in New York, Genovese and her father were making a late-night trip to commiserate with family after the death of a relative Genovese had considered a grandmother.
During the drive, Tony Genovese remembered that O’Donnell had delivered a message earlier that day asking his daughter to call Earleywine. As they were pulling in to their relatives' neighborhood, he passed along the message.
“‘You know, maybe you should call him,’” Corrin Genovese recalls her father telling her. “(He said) it might be a sign from grandma. You know, it might be crazy, but you should call him.”
So she did. And after the conversation she realized she wanted to be a Tiger.
“She got off the phone, and she looked at me and said, ‘Dad, I’m going to play for that man,’” Tony Genovese said.
Earleywine had talked about family with her. They had talked about what it would be like to have the program’s first player from New York. They talked for almost 40 minutes.
“I was really upset, and I can honestly tell you two minutes into the conversation I was smiling,” Genovese said. “I could never play for a coach I can’t have a conversation with. If I don’t feel a connection of some sort, then it’s plain and simple, I can’t play for you. And with Coach E., it was instantly there."
Earleywine felt the same way.
“Generally when I talk talk to these kids, I just wing it,” Earleywine said. “I don’t have an agenda. I just like to wing it because I can find out pretty quickly what people are made of. I’ve always had a pretty good feel for that.
"I have a connection with Corrin because she’s ultra-competitive and she’s a major risk-taker. Once I realized those two things, I knew this was my kind of kid. That probably resonated with her as well. I don’t care who you are, you know when you connect with somebody.
"That was a damn good conversation.”
But that didn't mean circumstances at Missouri had changed. Earleywine still didn’t need another second baseman.
The time he tried to tell her 'no'
Scholarship money for players isn’t always easy to come by. D'Amour said that because Missouri has become so prominent in the past five-or-so years, a major portion of his job is rejecting players that show interest in the school.
But when a pitcher becomes available that has the potential of 6-foot-4 Bailey Erwin, it is hard not to make the investment.
"He told us that softball was won and lost in the circle," was how Tony Genovese said Earleywine explained it.
Earleywine had planned to make Corrin Genovese a substantial scholarship offer, but suddenly there was scant scholarship money for her.
"I bite my freaking lip every time I think about this," Earleywine said. "She was convinced from afar, after our first couple conversations, that this was the place she wanted to play. So I started doing some math and realized I didn’t have much money left. I told her coach, 'Hey, we like Genovese, but I got some bad news.'"
He told O'Donnell to tell Corrin Genovese and her family not to make the visit to Missouri they had scheduled. He didn't want them to waste their money coming to Columbia.
He knew Arizona, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Louisville had offered substantially more scholarship money than he could.
But Tony Genovese said his daughter was determined. She said she still wanted to play for Earleywine, and she still wanted to make the trip.
"I will never forget," Earleywine said. "I missed her call, but she left a message."
When he dialed it up and listened, all he heard were sniffles. She was crying on the phone.
"While she’s crying, she says, 'I still want to come down.' And I never forget the last thing she says. She said, 'I just got to see it.' It was almost like, 'My family can’t afford this, and this is not going to work, but I just got to see it.'"
Earleywine said it broke his heart not being able to find room for a player who so badly wanted to be a Tiger. He thought of his own children wanting something so badly. So for the next couple of weeks before her visit, he went to work.
"Man, I was a mathematician — trimming all the fat trying to help the kid out," Earleywine said.
Later, during their visit, they went to Earleywine's office. Tony Genovese grabbed a pencil and went to work on the numbers.
"He shook his head and said, 'I think we can do that,'" Earleywine said. "Corrin jumped up and said, 'I'm committing, this is where I’m going.' And I think we hugged. That's the way it worked out."
No more doubts
Back in February, Earleywine said he had drawn almost no conclusions about his young team from the Black and Gold game. After all, he had only spent a few months with them.
But there was no mistaking that he knew Genovese was special.
"She just wears it (confidence) up there," Earleywine said. "You can see it all over her body. I wish my whole team was like that. Those type of kids right there, you don’t have to worry when the lights get really bright, you know, the big stage. No big deal. That’s what wins championships."
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.