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Unique freshman Emily Crane energizes Missouri softball team

Saturday, March 23, 2013 | 9:59 p.m. CDT; updated 11:37 p.m. CDT, Saturday, March 23, 2013
Missoui softball won both games of a doubleheader against Georgia Tech on Saturday. The Tigers won the first game 8-0 and the second 16-0 to improve to 17-2 overall.

COLUMBIA – They’ll just laugh.

If you ask anyone on the Missouri softball team – or really most people who come in contact with the freshmen – if Emily Crane is goofy or unique, they’ll just laugh.

“Emily?” pitcher Chelsea Thomas asks with a laugh. “She is a goofball, there’s no other way to describe her.”

When it comes to being unique, Crane owns it. It is apparent in her signature braided side ponytail she wears almost every day, and it is especially obvious in her walk-up song choice.

“I felt like if I went with a typical song of the day that everyone listens to now, it wouldn’t be me, so I chose the Lion King (song) because I thought it was funny,” Crane said.

When the African chant at the beginning of "Circle of Life" blared through University Field at the first home game of the season, fans, reporters and event staff laughed with surprised looks on their faces. 

‘”I wasn’t surprised at all,” senior Nicole Hudson says with a laugh Friday at practice. “Quirky stuff like that, that’s Emily.” 

As quirky as Crane is, when she comes up to bat, she is focused.

“If I’m like pumped up and like, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah,’ I’m ready to go, but when I get on the field, every pitch, I’m focused, but I’m still up and going,” Crane said.

***

The song plays again in Saturday's doubleheader sweep of Georgia Tech. The Tigers won the first game 8-0 and the second 16-0 to improve to 17-2 overall.

The second baseman begins her walk from the dugout toward the batter’s box to start the bottom of the first inning with Circle of Life playing in the background.

Near the on-deck circle, she pauses. With gloveless hands, she leans over and grabs a clump of dirt, squeezes then opens her hand to let the crushed dirt fall back to the ground. She grips the handle of her bat, twists it three times.

She continues her walk to the batter’s box and steps in, feet planted as she stands in the back of the box. Ground out to the shortstop. Crane jogs back to the dugout.

***

Crane doesn't have a typical pregame warmup routine. While many players quietly prepare for a game, Crane goofs around. She laughs. She sings. She dances.

"She'll give a good 'Pitch Perfect' quote here and there, she likes to sing a lot," Thomas said about the freshman. "She's just a goofball."

Even between opposing batters, Crane will be standing on the infield dirt nodding her head to the beat of the song that was played a minute before. 

But once Thomas puts her right hand and in her glove to signal the beginning of her pitch, Crane is focused. A quick hop brings her feet into a wide athletic stance, and she is ready to field the ball.

***

Top of the second, ground ball to Tiger shortstop Corrin Genovese. She throws to Crane at second base who steps on the base to get the first out and then turns to throw the runner out at first.

Crane smiles and jogs off the field.

***

When coach Ehren Earleywine and the Missouri coaches were recruiting Crane, they feared she was going to be too weird and not get along with other players.

But after a visit to watch Crane play, they saw she was the center of attention in the dugout, surrounded by girls laughing with her, and they knew they had a place for her on the roster.

“She’s not the socially awkward weird. She’s the funny, random weird,” Earleywine said at practice Friday. “So we were like, ‘OK we can go ahead and recruit this kid now.’”

***

In the bottom of the second, there are runners at second and third and just one out. Crane grabs the dirt, twists the bat and steps up to the plate.

She hits the ball to the Georgia Tech third baseman who bobbles it, Crane reaches first safely on the error and the run scores. RBI for Crane.

The very next pitch, Crane takes off for second and slides in safely for a stolen base – her seventh in seven attempts this season.

***

When you talk to Crane, it’s hard not to smile.

“Emily is unlike anybody I’ve ever met in my life. She’s kind of got one of those infectious personalities, and she’s always bubbly and upbeat,” Hudson said. “It’s fun to be around somebody that way because she can kind of brighten my mood.”

Waiting to begin Game 2 against Georgia Tech, Crane couldn’t keep a straight face. She joked with Thomas and assistant coach Pete D’Amour. Thomas’ mom leaned over the fence to take a picture of the players. Seconds later, Crane was looking up, making goofy faces at the camera.

***

Once at her spot at second base, Crane awaits the first pitch. Thomas grips the ball and Crane moves into position. Strike. Crane stands straight up and turns around to look at the cars driving by. Head nodding to another song.

***

Friday at practice, Crane was fielding ground balls hit by D’Amour. Every time Crane caught the ball, she would throw it to the pillar a yard away from the coach. And every time, he would tap his hand on his chest as to say, ‘throw it to me.’

“Move to where the pillar is,” Crane said. “I’ve hit the pillar every time.”

Eventually she threw the ball directly to him, but that’s not what she wanted to do. She wanted to hit the pillar, it was like a game for her every throw.

“She thinks just a little bit differently than most people,” Earleywine said.

***

In the third inning, Crane hits the ball down the left field line. Once she realizes it is rolling towards the outfield wall, she picks up her speed rounding first and jogs safely into second.

“Yeah, sister,” Crane’s sister, Elizabeth Utterback, yells.

***

In January, Crane was the maid of honor at her sister’s wedding. Just like her personality, Crane delivered a very unique speech. In fact, it wasn’t really a speech at all, it was a rap.

“One day she said, ‘I’m going to have the best maid of honor speech,’” Utterback said. “And she did,” 

***

In the top of the fifth inning, a Georgia Tech ball heads straight for Crane. She flinches and the ball goes past her glove. Error by Crane.

In a relief effort, Hudson was able to get the next three batters out, so the error doesn't matter. Crane leaves the game and returns to being the smiling, erratic person that she is.

“She just has so much energy and so much life and every team needs that type of a person,” Thomas said. “We’re very fortunate to have her.”


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