Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine earns bittersweet 300th victory

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 | 10:08 p.m. CDT; updated 10:58 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The Missouri softball team took Evansville in a double-header at University Field on Wednesday, winning 3-1 and 4-3. The occasion marked Coach Ehren Earlywine's 300th win.

COLUMBIA – He felt helpless.

Evansville had just tied the Missouri softball team at a run apiece. A team that was 6-9 this season, a team that the Missouri program has never lost to. But yet in the third inning of Game 2 on Wednesday, coach Ehren Earleywine watched his team give up the lead.

Quick Hits

  • Chelsea Thomas threw her 1,000th strikeout as a Tiger on Wednesday. Thomas leads the category at Missouri by more than 100 strikeouts and is 92-26 overall as a Tiger. In 2012, Thomas was recognized for her pitching by being named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year. After a stress fracture allowed her a medical waiver 14 games into her sophomore season, Thomas was able to stay an extra year and is currently pitching her fifth season at Missouri.
  • Ashtin Stephens has opted to have season-ending surgery to heal the torn labrum in her left shoulder. Coach Ehren Earleywine said she injured her shoulder diving for a ball in practice. Stephens was the starting second baseman last season but had only started one game this season with the addition of freshman Emily Crane. Since Stephens has only played six games this season, she is eligible for a medical redshirt and will be able to play an extra year at Missouri.
  • Thursday, the team travels to Oxford, Miss., for a weekend series against Ole Miss (18-12, 1-2 SEC). Game 1 is set for 6 p.m. Friday.

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Before walking out to the coach's box next to third base in the middle of the inning, he paused. He leaned against the dugout railing, intertwined his fingers and looked down at the dirt.

"There comes a point where you try so hard, and there comes a point where it's not working and you just say, 'There's nothing I can do from my position,'" Earleywine said.

He didn't let his players see how upset he was. He kept the same calm demeanor he has during most games. He couldn't let them know what he was really thinking.

"If I released what was on the inside of me, I would break people's hearts on a regular basis, so I internalize so much when I coach because I have to," Earleywine said.

As a player, Earleywine was completely different. When he was a baseball player at Westminster College, Earleywine would let his anger show, he would call himself names and tell himself off for playing poorly.

Throughout his baseball playing days, and later when he joined the men's major fastpitch softball national team, Earleywine became accustomed to winning. Then, he became a coach and accumulated more wins. With all of the accolades and praise, he became addicted to winning.

"When your life has been surrounded with connecting your self-worth and connecting your importance as a person, based on your wins, you can see how it's almost as if everything in my personhood hangs in the balance of a win or loss," Earleywine said earlier in the season. "It's sad but true."

As the game progressed, Earleywine became more and more frustrated with his team. He couldn't even sit during the top halves of the innings. He just stood in the tunnel that connects the locker room to the dugout. He leaned against the tunnel wall, following each pitch with his eyes.

Earleywine's love of and intensity for the game started at an early age when his father, Larry Earleywine, would bring his son into the dugout with him during his fastpitch softball games. The younger Earleywine would watch the games and talk to the other players. That competitive drive grew inside him until he eventually became the win-driven coach he is today.

One of the only times Ehren Earleywine can watch a softball game and relax is when his daughter Duran, 7, is playing.

"He just loves the fact that he's not coaching," his wife, Lisa Earleywine, said by phone. "If she wants some extra help with something, he'll let her come to him, but I think he just enjoys being a spectator for a while."

As helpless as Ehren Earleywine felt watching his team continuously ground out and fly out, he still felt responsible. He felt that he failed his team as a hitting coach. He credits his players with his successes over the years but takes the blame for any failures.

Evansville got a rally going in the fifth, and Missouri was down 3-1. When the bottom of the inning came, Ehren Earleywine sauntered over to his spot on the field.

The chants coming from the Purple Aces dugout that echoed throughout University Field were loudest for the man in the coach's box.

As a self-proclaimed traditionalist baseball guy, Ehren Earleywine hates chanting. Each song they sang hit a new nerve with him. His team was losing, but there was nothing he could do about it.

"I could coach them all I want, but they're the ones that are getting the hits and throwing the strikeouts and fielding the ground balls," Ehren Earleywine said.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Tigers strung together a few hits and capitalized on a Purple Aces error to tie the game at 3. After sophomore Angela Randazzo singled to left, Ehren Earleywine rotated his left arm continuously to signal redshirt freshman Carlie Rose to run home.

His arm had just stopped spinning when sophomore Kelsi Jones tried to follow Rose and head home. Seeing that she was probably going to be thrown out, he just started walking back to the dugout.

Missouri took the lead on Rose's run, but Jones' failed attempt to score ended the inning.

Ehren Earleywine showed no joy for the lead or anger about the out. He just kept that calm exterior and sauntered back to the dugout. 

Missouri held on to earn the coach his 300th victory at Missouri. But it didn't feel right. After a 3-1 victory in the first game, the No. 8-ranked Tigers (12-2, 1-1 SEC) won the second game 4-3, an outing that especially didn't sit right with the hard-to-satisfy competitor.

"It's just a frustrating day for me. I don't think much about the 300 wins," he said.

He might have earned two wins Wednesday, but they weren't good enough. Ehren Earleywine's competitive drive keeps him from being satisfied with his efforts and with the efforts of his players. 

"Sometimes you endure those moments where you just feel helpless, and today was one of those moments," he said. "You just feel helpless."

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