COLUMBIA – Kayla Kinglsey lay on the left foul line with her back flat on the ground. She winced in pain as she began to cry. After lying there for a few minutes, the Missouri left fielder was carried off the field by a manager and a coach.
Kingsley sat in the back of the dugout, her right leg extended with ice wrapped around it. She pounded her fist against the seat back.
The rest of the team stared with worried faces, but they knew they had a game to focus on.
Alyssa Cousins came up to bat with two runners on, two outs and down by one run in the bottom of the eighth inning against Arkansas. The players in the dugout cheered for Cousins, but one by one they kept turning around to look at their hurt teammate.
Corrin Genovese left her teammates that were leaning against the dugout railing and went back to check on Kingsley.
“I told her that we have her back and that no matter how long she is out, we have her back,” Genovese said. “We’re going to fight for her.”
Prior to Kinglsey’s painful fall to the ground, Missouri had the bases loaded with no outs. A line drive by Nicole Hudson that was caught by the Razorback shortstop forced Kingsley to turn back to third quickly. In the process of turning around, Kinglsey fell to the ground in pain.
“It wasn’t like Louisville, where I saw a bone hanging out of her leg or anything, but she squalled pretty loud,” coach Ehren Earleywine said. “I guess it hurt pretty bad, but I have no idea what the diagnosis is on her.”
The team watched Cousins walk and then Kelsea Roth fly out to left field to end the game. They didn’t move right away. For a moment, they just watched the Arkansas (28-16, 6-9 SEC) players celebrate their 11-10 win. With long faces, they left the dugout and high-fived their victorious opponents.
With one of the best pitchers in the country, Missouri was not expected to give up 11 runs to an unranked team. But being the only starting pitcher has taken its toll on Tiger ace Chelsea Thomas.
“Chelsea was done,” Earleywine said. “She just couldn’t throw anymore.”
Part of the reason for the fatigue was that Thomas threw 156 pitches Saturday in an 11 inning Tiger loss.
“I just need to keep her fresher because we can win games if she’s fresh, but if I just keep running her out there and she’s running on fumes, that’s not good on any level,” Earleywine said.
Lindsey Muller and Hudson combined for four innings of relief, with Hudson giving up six earned runs. Neither players were prepared at the start of this season to pitch so much, but with the transfer of sophomore Bailey Erwin 10 games into the season, their roles changed.
Earleywine’s plan was to have Thomas start every game, but after going 2-4 in the past two Southeastern Conference series, he is beginning to rethink how he uses his ace.
One possibility is to have Thomas just pitch on Friday and Sunday of the weekend series and have Hudson pitch Saturday.
“Maybe you just take your loss on Saturday if that’d be the case,” Earleywine said. “I don’t know.”
Earleywine and the rest of the team have three tough conference series left to play against No. 13 LSU, No. 18 Kentucky and No. 5 Tennessee, so they will need to figure out their pitching situation quickly.
The added possibility of losing Kinglsey creates more problems for the team.
“Hopefully, she can continue to be in the lineup. If not, it takes away a lot of speed,” Hudson said. “She gets a lot of things going.”
After the game, Kinglsey hobbled on crutches out of the dugout. With the assistance of a trainer, she walked to the back of a golf cart. The trainer held her right leg straight. A large spot of chalk remained on her leg from the foul line. The golf cart drove away and with red eyes, Kinglsey stared off at the field.
Meanwhile, Earleywine just sat in the dugout with his head down. He had just lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.
"I’m tired as hell,” Earleywine said. “I’m physically exhausted, and I’m probably going to be eventually mentally exhausted from trying to put this Rubik's Cube together.”