Missouri softball readies field, team for series against Texas A&M

Thursday, March 7, 2013 | 8:40 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Two members of the grounds crew pour sand over patches of mud in the outfield grass, rake it over, then move on to the next patch. They continue this until the Missouri softball players come onto the field for warmup jogs and stretches.

While the players run hitting and fielding drills to prepare for the upcoming series, Missouri softball head coach Ehren Earleywine watches from the dugout, leaning against the railing, until something catches his attention. He goes into the shed for a few seconds before emerging with a rake. He casually walks towards second base and then drags the rake along the base path to first.

Even the coach is doing his part to get the field ready for this weekend's series between No. 7 Texas A&M (22-1) and No. 5 Missouri (9-1).

Seven shovels, two days, a rake and countless bags of sand later, University Field is clear of snow and just about ready for this series between old rivals playing in a new conference.

The Tigers and Aggies have history.

Not only had the two teams been competitive while in the Big 12 – Texas A&M holds a 35-25 series lead all time – but problems have arose due to intense fans and one coach accusing another of having phones in the dugout.

"Suffice to say, neither one of us likes each other very much, but at the same time, there's a respect for each other's program," Earleywine said. "This is less about the rivalry between the coaches and more about what the girls do on the field."

Last season, Missouri lost two out of three games in front of a vocal College Station crowd.

"Their atmosphere at their place, is pretty intense and their crowd, they're really kind of ruthless," senior Nicole Hudson said.

Chelsea Thomas was in the circle for both of those losses, but could possibly have three opportunities to make up for those games. With the recent transfer of sophomore Bailey Erwin away from Missouri, the weight of the Tigers' pitching falls even more on Thomas's shoulders.

"It's my last year and I told coach E, 'I'm ready to have the ball anytime,'" Thomas said. "I will be ready to go every day this weekend."

While Earleywine is pretty sure about his starting pitcher, he is unsure about who will be his starting outfielders and third baseman.

"I have 27 lineups on my desk, let's just say that," Earleywine said with a smirk.

One player who Earleywine can eliminate as an option is sophomore Ashtin Stephens, who tore the larbum in her shoulder. It has not yet been determined if or when the 2012 starting second baseman can play again, but she currently has her arm in a sling.

Earleywine will most likely start freshman Emily Crane at second base and is tinkering with putting her fourth in the lineup behind Hudson to protect the power hitter from getting walked.

Whoever is in the Tigers' lineup, they will have to face Aggies ace Mel Dumezich, who is 15-0 this season.

"I've been facing Dumezich, the opposing pitcher, this is our fourth year now, so I'm really ready to go out and kind of get her best," Hudson said.

All three games last season were decided by one run, meaning the first Southeastern Conference series for both teams is expected to be a close one.

"They've been pretty decent ever since I've been here my freshman year," Thomas said. "They've been a team that we have always had to come with our A-game to beat, and I think it's going to be a great series."

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